Facebook was subject to tough questioning by Members of Parliament at a meeting of the Standing Committee attached to the Ministry of Information and Technology, on Wednesday.
The meeting was attended by 13 MPs of the BJP and four from Opposition parties. Almost all members criticised the US-based social media giant for political bias.
The BJP MPs wanted to know why 2.6 million pages of BJP-related posts were taken down, erased, or tampered with by the company. BJP MP Nishikant Dubey who has aggressively questioned the practices at Facebook, lashed out at the organisation, along with Anil Agarwal (BJP), Sanjay Seth (BJP) and Mahua Moitra (Trinamool Congress).
As proceedings of Parliamentary committees are covered by Parliamentary privilege, very little information was forthcoming from Facebook on how the organisation defended itself. Those who attended the meeting on its behalf were Ajit Mohan, vice-president of the company, and S Purohit, the legal advisor. Facebook said its deposition would be submitted in writing to the MPs.
Unconfirmed reports suggest some MPs also voiced the demand that executives in Facebook India should be stripped of their positions.
Another meeting, for which Facebook will be summoned, is on the cards.
Two activists of net neutrality — journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, also the author of The Real Face of Facebook in India, and Nikhil Pahwa, founder of digital news portal Medianama — also addressed the Standing Committee.
Thakurta described Facebook’s interventions in favour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP during the 2014 and 2019 elections, and detailed how executives from Facebook were also advisors to the BJP during the election campaign.
“There is very little the government can do,” said an MP. “All we can do is hammer away at them (Facebook) hoping it will have some impact on its share price given it is a listed company.”
Another MP said the government could teach Facebook a lesson by preventing it from launching WhatsApp Pay.
However, they conceded that given the partnership with Jio, options for the government to act against Facebook were limited.