House IT panel questions FB, will seek Speaker nod to call whistleblower

THE IT parliamentary committee is learnt to have unanimously decided Monday to record the statement of Facebook whistleblower Sophie Zhang even as panel members questioned Facebook India officials over its safeguards to prevent hate mongering, polarisation and tweaking of the democratic process.

The committee will approach Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla for permission to invite Zhang for recording her statements — the Speaker’s permission is required to allow persons from overseas to appear before the panels. Zhang, the first former Facebook employee who had made public the company’s alleged unethical working, had shared dossiers with the House panel led by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor.

On Monday, representatives of Facebook India including Shivnath Thukral, its head of policy, were questioned by MPs for almost two hours. They were summoned following allegations by whistleblowers and numerous studies on how social media platforms whip up sentiments to enhance activities on their platforms to promote business interests.

Panel members, it is believed, were said to be dissatisfied with the response, and Facebook was asked to provide more details in writing on the safeguards.

The social media giant has been criticised by political leaders for not taking into account the plurality of the nation while dealing with such issues. Leaders have said it did not have linguistic or ethnic diversity among those who flagged such issues — it has content reviewers only in Hindi, Tamil, Urdu and Bangla.

Recently, in a written response to The Indian Express, Facebook said it has, in the last two years, hired more people with language, country and topic expertise. “Adding more language expertise has been a key focus area for us. They are part of the over 40,000 people we have working on safety and security including global content review teams in over 70 languages, including 20 Indian languages,” a Meta spokesperson had told The Indian Express.

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

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