Facebook India Chief Appears Before Parliamentary Panel
Logos for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), center, and Facebook Inc. are displayed on a computer at the Boom Live office in Mumbai, India. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

Facebook India Chief Appears Before Parliamentary Panel

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Amid a raging row over Facebook's alleged political "bias", India head of the social media platform Ajit Mohan was on Wednesday questioned for nearly two hours by a parliamentary panel, which is discussing alleged misuse of social media platforms.

While details of what transpired during the closed-door hearing were not immediately known, senior Congress leader and panel chief Shashi Tharoor tweeted "in response to overwhelming media interest in the meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology....this is all I can say: We met for some three and a half hours and unanimously agreed to resume the discussion later, including with representatives of Facebook."

Sources said as discussions could not be concluded with the Facebook representatives, there was a view to call the meeting again on September 10, but consensus could not be achieved with some members objecting to it on the grounds that the committee is to be reconstituted.

The panel had called representatives of Facebook to hear their views "on the subject of safeguarding citizens' rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space".

The panel had also called representatives of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on the same issue, while a few others including some digital media activists also deposed before the panel.

An official said 18 members of the panel including the chairman were present.

Tharoor's announcement that the panel would like to hear from Facebook about a report published in the Wall Street Journal claiming that the social media platform ignored applying its hate-speech rules to some BJP politicians had evoked a strong reaction from the ruling party members in the panel.

BJP MP Nishikant Dubey had alleged that the Congress leader has been using the panel's platform to further his and his party's political agenda and even demanded his removal as chairman.

A fresh round in the political slugfest started on the issue on Monday with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi claiming that the international media has "exposed" Facebook and WhatsApp's "brazen assault" on India's democracy and social harmony.

"No one, let alone a foreign company, can be allowed to interfere in our nation's affairs. They must be investigated immediately and when found guilty, punished," Gandhi tweeted.

IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also wrote to Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, accusing the social media platform's employees of supporting people from a political predisposition that lost successive elections, and "abusing" Prime Minister and senior cabinet ministers.

In a three-page letter to Facebook Chief Executive Zuckerberg, Prasad alleged "bias and inaction" by individuals in the Facebook India team on complaints by people supportive of right-of-centre ideology.

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