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The Congress charge of a ‘controlled’ Facebook in India – All that is white is not milk!

Author: Amit Malviya
Publication: The Times of India
Date: August 17, 2020
URL:   https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/voices/the-congress-charge-of-a-controlled-facebook-in-india-all-that-is-white-is-not-milk/

It is ludicrous to suggest that Facebook is amenable to the BJP and the wider conservative ecosystem. If anything, the reverse is true. In the run-up to the 2019 general elections, Facebook unilaterally took down over 700 pages, most of them sympathetic to a nationalist narrative. This trend of targeting large pages and groups run by volunteers and special interest groups, with communities running in millions, hasn’t stopped since. No reasons are assigned and appeals aren’t entertained either.

Facebook pages of digital publications, which don’t conform to the broader Left consensus, have been at the receiving end too with their pages being struck down for random reasons and monetization avenues thwarted.

Just over a year ago, in the run-up to the 2019 general election, Congress party embarked on an all-out mission to give the ever-evasive online makeover to their scion Rahul Gandhi, who had hitherto been the subject of spontaneous mockery and ridicule by the people. In the process, they were caught red-handed, having engaged the now infamous and disgraced big-data manipulating digital firm, Cambridge Analytica, which had been in news for its dubious record of weaponizing Facebook data and algorithms to interfere in the electoral process of several countries.
Christopher Wylie, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica and a whistleblower, submitted to the UK Parliament on record in March 2018 that Cambridge Analytica had worked extensively in India for the Congress party, and he had documents to prove it.

British writer, journalist and technology blogger Jamie Bartlett had publicly proclaimed with proof that he had physically visited the Cambridge Analytica office in London and saw a Congress banner posted in the Company CEO’s office as ‘one of its clients’ like a badge of honour!

Talking about biases that a new media platform can inject in public discourse and narrative-building by appointing certain individuals with a certain political and ideological inclination, for instance, appointment of Congress leader Manish Tewari as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Atlantic Council, which has been outsourced the job of eliminating political propaganda from the platform by Facebook, should not have gone unnoticed but it has!

Adding to the long and questionable list of such high-profile appointments is Ajit Mohan, MD of Facebook India, who used to work with the Planning Commission during UPA days. Sidharth Mazumdar, another employee in Facebook’s public policy team, previously worked for Sonia Gandhi’s strategist and senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, is known to have uncharitable views about the Prime Minister and other senior ministers.

It is also well-known that Ankhi Das, the senior Facebook executive in Congress’s cross-hair currently, and head of Facebook’s public policy in India and South Asia has her family aligned to the Trinamool Congress. It doesn’t stop at that. Manish Khanduri, former head of news partnerships at Facebook, had left them to join the Congress party and even contested the 2019 general elections on a Congress ticket, unsuccessfully though.

Despite startling revelations about Congress being in cahoots with Cambridge Analytica, the disinformation giant and its disingenuous attempts to subvert the discourse on new media platforms, Facebook, in particular, Congress and the Left-leaning cabal, that had all along fed off the Nehruvian ecosystem, have the audacity to accuse the BJP of controlling the narrative on Facebook and on other social media platforms, by implication.

As a matter of fact, the issue of controlling the narratives is not limited to one platform. It is happening on almost all platforms of the new media. For example, a prominent scholar and commentariat, Anand Ranganathan whose views are often inimical to Leftist consensus has his Twitter account suspended for having quoted a verse from the Quran! In contrast, Asaduddin Owaisi, the champion of hate-speech in India and now dead Burhan Wani, the darling of terror apologists, built their ‘popularity’ on Facebook and other new media platforms! The platforms in principle have to be neutral and agnostic to political narratives in democratic countries. This is an evolving process.

What constitutes hate speech in India will be decided by our constitutional framework and extant rules. It must be applied fairly to all irrespective of their political affiliation. Sonia Gandhi, whose divisive speech streamed live on Facebook, which led to wide-scale rioting, death, and destruction, is equally guilty as is someone else. We can’t have double standards.
Shaping public discourse can’t be the exclusive purview of the Left, who have since lost their monopoly and public support. Social media has democratized discourse and that is something they haven’t come to terms with. They often use friendly media to push the inconsistent and incoherent narrative to remain relevant. But it is unlikely to yield any political dividend to the Congress, which is struggling with a discredited leadership and waning popular support.

 

 
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