A panel of Indian lawmakers studying the information and technology industry in the country is far from happy over Facebook’s responses on preventing hate mongering. The Parliamentary committee that questioned Facebook India officials on Monday as part of its hearing, sought safeguards on the platform to prevent polarization and any possible tampering of the country’s democratic process.
Further, the panel of Indian law-makers also decided to summon the Facebook whistleblower Sophie Zhang, the data scientist who published a memo detailing the way Facebook was used to influence global politics. She had specifically spoken about how the platform was allowed to be used for polarisation of opinions during the 2020 Delhi riots.
The panel will need Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla’s permission to summon Zhang as overseas citizens cannot be directly called to appear before such panels. Zhang had shared dossiers with the Parliamentary panel led by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor.
Did Facebook India team stonewall the queries?
Yesterday, when the House panel quizzed the Facebook India team that was led by its head of policy Shivnath Thukral, the mood was said to be fiery. The Facebook officials were grilled for close to two hours based on whistleblower revelations and many reports that laid bare the ways that social media platforms to look away while opinions were allowed to be polarised among the people and also interests of specific business groups were furthered.
At the end of the over-100 minute long questioning session, the parliamentary panel members were reportedly not satisfied with the response of the Facebook team that is said to have dead-batted most questions. The panel members have asked Facebook to provide more details in writing on the safeguards they talked about.
Facebook officials also reportedly claimed that there was little truth to the claims of the whistleblowers, and that an internal investigation was underway in the matter.
The parliamentary panel asked Facebook about its methodology to curb hate speech in different languages, especially in the Indian context. Facebook apparently has content reviewers only in Hindi, Tamil, Urdu and Bangla, whereas the are 18 more languages recognized by the Constitution.
Another incongruity, though not a major one, is that the press communique issued by the Parliament, on which we based this report, continued to refer the company as Facebook India even though the company is now rechristened to Meta. It is not clear why the previous name is still being persisted with in Indian records.