Executives of Facebook and Twitter working in India, who appeared before a parliamentary committee on 21 January, were questioned why they had suspended the accounts of Union Home Minister Amit Shah in November 2020. While the agenda of the meeting was primarily safeguarding citizens’ rights, preventing misuse of social news media platforms and women security in the digital space, sources said the committee questioned the executives on the right of a social media company to block the account of a union minister of the country.
The Twitter officials explained that they “had to” block the account temporarily as there was a copyright issue regarding a picture posted.
When Shah’s account was blocked temporarily, Twitter had said it was an “inadvertent error” under its copyright policies. “This decision was reversed immediately and the account is fully functional,” a spokesperson of the microblogging site had said. But the latest explanation failed to clarify how the action was inadvertent.
Close on the heels of the big controversy over the deletion of alleged hate speech and content by ex-US President Donald Trump, many of his supporters and several eminent Republicans, marking their posts as “unreliable” or “fake news”, and the suspension and/or permanent deletion of their accounts, some MPs in the Indian parliamentary committee — especially those from the BJP-led NDA — questioned how social media platforms could remove content when there was no law against it in India.
Both Twitter and Facebook pleaded that they had strong rules on content and that they were bound to remove content when necessary to ensure it did not incite violence.
In India, Facebook, infamous for selling user data in the alleged Cambridge Analytica scandal, had landed in a controversy in September after American publication Wall Street Journal reported that it had overlooked hate speech posted by leaders of the ruling BJP and “right-wing” voices. The WSJ had reported further that Facebook’s then India policy chief Ankhi Das had advised against action, saying punishing violations by BJP workers “would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”.
Facebook had defended Ankhi Das, saying policies on hate speech were “not made unilaterally by any one person”.
At the same time, Union Minister for Law and Justice, Electronics and Information Technology and Communications Ravi Shankar Prasad had written to Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg, complaining why the social medium was particularly hostile to the supporters of the BJP-led NDA government. Zuckerberg never cared to respond to the letter.
Last evening, the social media giant explained also its policy on the new privacy terms of WhatsApp, which is disturbing users in India. Facebook said it had no plan to integrate the two platforms although WhatsApp and photo-sharing site Instagram were integrated.
The key issues in the meeting included the concern over privacy, monetisation of data and the misinformation in social media. Their report will raise these issues and, hopefully, Facebook and Twitter will comply with India’s data privacy law, members of the committee said.