Panel of lawmakers annoyed by Facebook India team – that’s why

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A panel of Indian lawmakers studying the country’s information and tech industry are far from satisfied with Facebook’s responses to preventing incitement to hatred. The parliamentary committee, which questioned Facebook India officials as part of its hearing on Monday, called for guarantees on the platform to prevent polarization and any possible alteration of the country’s democratic process.

In addition, the panel of Indian lawmakers also decided to summon Facebook whistleblower Sophie Zhang, the data scientist who released a memo detailing how Facebook has been used to influence global politics. She had specifically explained how the platform was allowed to be used for polarization of opinion during the riots in Delhi in 2020.

The panel will need permission from Lok Sabha Chairman Om Birla to summon Zhang, as overseas citizens cannot be directly called to appear before these panels. Zhang had shared files with the parliamentary panel headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor.

Did the Facebook India team block requests?

Yesterday, when the House panel interviewed the Facebook India team led by its political chief Shivnath Thukral, the mood was said to be heated. Facebook officials were grilled for nearly two hours based on whistleblower disclosures and numerous reports that exposed how social media platforms look the other way while opinions are allowed to be polarized among people and that the interests of specific business groups are encouraged.

At the end of the more than 100-minute questioning session, members of the parliamentary panel were said to have been unhappy with the response from the Facebook team who reportedly answered most of the questions. Panel members asked Facebook to provide more details in writing about the guarantees they discussed.

Facebook officials also reportedly claimed that there was little truth to the whistleblowers’ claims and that an internal investigation was underway into the matter.

The parliamentary panel asked Facebook about its methodology for tackling hate speech in different languages, especially in the Indian context. Facebook apparently only has content reviewers in Hindi, Tamil, Urdu, and Bengali, while there are 18 other constitutionally recognized languages.

Another incongruity, although not major, is that the press release issued by Parliament, on which we based this report, continued to refer to the company as Facebook India even though the company is now rebranded as Meta. It is not known why the previous name is still kept in Indian archives.

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