IT panel summons Facebook India officials after whistleblower shares dossier on fake news, hate speech

Sophie Zhang, an ex-Facebook employee who made the company's alleged unethical working public, has shared a dossier with the house panel headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, sources told The Indian Express.

Revelations made by a Facebook whistleblower on how the social media giant handled misinformation and hate news on its platform, which also reportedly had an impact in India ahead of the last general elections, has reached the Information Technology Parliamentary Committee.

Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook employee who made the company’s alleged unethical working public, has shared a dossier with the house panel headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, sources told The Indian Express.

The committee, in its meeting on November 29, had summoned Facebook India officials to appear before it to discuss what the whistleblower has shared, sources added.

According to the agenda, the IT panel will “hear the views of the representatives of Facebook India on the subject ‘Safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space’,” and will also hear representatives of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on the same.

Zhang, who appeared before the British parliament last month, had expressed interest in appearing before the Indian parliamentary panel. Zhang claimed she worked to remove a “politically sophisticated network of more than a thousand actors working to influence” the Delhi Assembly elections in February 2020, and that the social media firm did not publicly disclose this network or that it had been taken down. Her revelation is part of a 6,600-word memo obtained and reported by Buzzfeed, which alleges that Facebook “ignored” or was “slow to act on evidence” that fake accounts on its platform have been “undermining elections and political affairs around the world”.

Sources said the IT panel is also likely to invite Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist-turned-whistleblower, who had released a series of documents that revealed that the products of the social network giant harmed mental health of teenage girls, and that it resisted changes that could make its platform less divisive because it “put its profits before people”. Haugen had testified before the US Senate Committee on the same.

The IT panel had earlier summoned Facebook, seeking an explanation on a report in The Wall Street Journal, which revealed how the social media company deliberately turned a blind eye towards hate speeches by a BJP leader from Telangana, and did not take them down from its platform fearing it might hurt the firm’s business interests in India, its biggest market.

The BJP members in the IT panel had objected to the move. BJP MP Nishikant Dubey had written to the Speaker seeking removal of Tharoor from the post of chairman of the IT panel, accusing him of flouting rules. Dubey had alleged that the chairman had not discussed the matter with the panel members.

However, Tharoor was re-appointed as the chairman when the panel was reconstituted in October.

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