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Congress MP wants answers from Facebook India head after whistleblower revelations

Facebook’s failure to check hate speech in different languages has renewed calls for investigations.

“I write to register my vehement disdain and alarm pertaining to the recent revelations made by former employees of Facebook Inc. regarding their internal policies and action taken relating to the moderation of content on your platform,” Congress MP from Assam, Gaurav Gogoi said in a letter to Facebook India’s Managing Director Ajit Mohan on November 11.

Meta, formerly Facebook, is facing increasing pressure from the Indian political class after internal company documents that were recently leaked by a whistleblower showed that Facebook failed to take action on hate speech even after employees flagged them internally. Gogoi also asked the India MD about steps taken by Facebook India to rectify its mismanagement while Rohan Gupta, the Congress party’s head of social media, wrote to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding an investigation into the company’s actions in India

The controversy has triggered lawmakers around the world to call for accountability from the social media giant. In India, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology reportedly sent a letter to Facebook asking for more information on its algorithms and country operations, the Congress party has asked for a Joint Parliamentary Committee-led investigation into Facebook’s actions here, and Delhi’s legislative assembly has also renewed its investigation into the platform’s role in the 2020 riots.

The issues raised in Gogoi’s letter

In his letter, Gaurav Gogoi raised the following issues-

1. Facebook’s impact on the mental health of teens: “Ms. Haugen’s documents reveal that Facebook Inc suppressed internal research that raised concerns about the manner in which it dealt with the prevention and management of hateful content,” Gogoi said.

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2. Facebook’s impact on elections: “I had raised similar concerns in an earlier letter to the company and it is disheartening to see no concrete response or corrective measures being taken by the company since then,” Gogoi said, referring to whistleblower Sophie Zhang’s claim that a network of fake accounts was not taken down during the Delhi assembly elections in 2020 because they were linked to a BJP member.

Gogoi also raised concerns over whistleblower Haugen’s claim that European lawmakers had complained to Facebook that the network’s algorithm forces them to take more extreme positions for better engagement.

3. Facebook’s preference of profit over safety: “[…]it is imperative that Facebook Inc also introspect and arrive at practices that also keep the best interests of their users and public good in mind, besides, solely relying on profit-making endeavours as a guiding force,” he said. Gogoi said that considering the impact of the platform, the government may also have to intervene.

Red flags before Assam elections

Internal documents reviewed and reported on by MediaNama revealed that, in Assam, Facebook’s internal team had flagged the profiles of BJP leader Satya Ranjan Borah and (then-unelected) Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma for spreading hatred against Muslims ahead of the state’s assembly elections. A post by Assamese Online was also flagged for targeting the Bengali-speaking Hindu population in the state. The profiles mentioned in the research document remain active on Facebook at the time of publishing this report.

The document recommended “stronger time-bound demotion of Inflammatory content that includes accusations of harm (but especially threats to the status of Assamese).”

“Videos featuring inflammatory content were identified as high risk during the [Assam] election, and we implemented a measure to help prevent these videos from automatically playing in someone’s video feed,” said a Meta spokesperson.

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Written By

I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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