Congress MP K.C. Venugopal called out Facebook’s “blatant bias and dubious in content regulation” citing recent media reports. “This is damning and serious allegation of Facebook’s interference in India’s electoral democracy”, adding that “India is one [Facebook’s] biggest markets”, Venugopal said in Rajya Sabha on Thursday morning.

“Raising a matter of public importance, of Facebook India’s interference in India’s electoral politics,” Venugopal said. It seems that the motion Venugopal wanted to pass was “I want to lay on the table of the house for demand for probe into Facebook’s interference in India’s electoral democracy”, which  Rajya Sabha chairperson Venkaiah Naidu read out.

Following this, Congress MP Amee Yajnik said, “Social media platforms are flooded with harmful content, and a comprehensive legal framework is required to monitor these platforms”.

In the last few weeks, Facebook hasfaced harsh backlash after the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook’s top policy executives in India shielded hate speech by politicians of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to protect the company’s business prospects in India. Facebook later permanently suspended the account of T. Raja Singh, one of the politicians it had earlier not taken action against, and five accounts dedicated to him.

When the bias allegations first surfaced, Rahul Gandhi had said that BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) controlled Facebook and its subsidiary WhatsApp in India. Congress’s head of data analytics Praveen Chakravarthy had said that Facebook was clearly interfering in Indian elections and asked the Facebook headquarters to conduct an investigation into “the operations of their India team and their efforts of actively interfering in India’s electoral democracy”.

Free speech must not be abrogated: MediaNama’s take

With over two billion users worldwide, what Facebook decides should stay or be removed can impact discourse at a national level. At this stage, users are dependent on the benevolence of platforms like Facebook and Twitter to police harmful content and ensure that it’s taken down. Different platforms have their own policies against harmful content, and they are not consistently applied. For instance, Mark Zuckerberg recently admitted that Facebook mistakenly left up a page that called for violence ahead of Black Lives Matter protests in the US. Everyday hateful content remains active on Facebook, sometimes for months before they are removed.

While the Indian government has sought to police social media by diluting the intermediary liability protections under the Information Technology Act, 2000, those changes raise other concerns around privacy, free speech, and prior restraint. What is needed is a way to govern these platforms, without abrogating the free speech that they bring to users.

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