(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
A report appears in Wall Street Journal (WSJ). It names Ankhi Das, the policy head of Facebook in India as sympathetic to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). She is accused of allowing “hate speech” from the party’s leaders or supporters on the Social Media platform. Unnamed Facebook employees have spilled these beans. The Indian parliamentary IT panel, headed by Congress’ Shashi Tharoor, which also has Trinamool Congress’ (TMC) Mohua Moitra, are straining at the leash. The great idealists that they are–never mind they work for parties which are dictatorial—are sleepless at this assault on their professed principles.
Here, certain things don’t add up. The provocation of this report is recent Bengaluru riots. The implication is that the ugly violence was sparked off because Facebook let go a “hate-speech” against Muslims. The WSJ doesn’t name its sources which it claims are from the Facebook India fold itself. However, it has no qualms in naming and shaming the policy head of the Social Media giant.
It’s now known, through a piece by BJP’s IT cell head Amit Malviya, that if anything, Facebook is teeming with anti-BJP voices. It’s managing director is Ajit Mohan, who was a Planning Commission guy during the UPA days. Sidharth Mazumdar of Facebook’s public policy team, was once Sonia Gandhi’s strategist. Manish Khanduri, who headed news alliances for Facebook, had contested the 2019 general elections on a Congress ticket. But Ankhi Das, the policy head, is a BJP sympathizer, never mind her family is “aligned to the Trinamool Congress.” And if these names don’t ring a bell, this one would do: Manish Tewari, Union I&B minister under UPA, is on the board of Atlantic Council, which handles the job of eliminating political propaganda on Facebook.
It might bore you but a couple of sentences must not miss your attention. In the run-up to 2019 General Elections, Congress had engaged Cambridge Analytica. This company was in the business of weaponizing Facebook data and algorithms to influence elections around the world. Documents were submitted in UK parliament by a whistleblower in 2018 that Cambridge Analytica had worked for Congress party in India. Congress had been caught red-handed.
Doesn’t it beg a question if Facebook is pro-BJP or in fact pro-Congress? Just look at the names who are deleting their Facebook accounts in the last few hours: Nidhi Razdan, Swati Chaturvedi, KC Singh etc. They all are part of Left-Liberals. To me it looks a concerted attack.
Readers, now, let me pose a simple question: If Ankhi Das alone pulls all the strings and is aligned to BJP, how did the Sonia Gandhi go Live on Facebook, where she was on her “aar-ya-paar-ki-ladai” exhortation mode to Muslims, which was followed by Delhi riots killing 59 this February? If Facebook is biased in favour of BJP, how has Asaduddin Owaisi, “the champion of hate-speech” and Hizbul terrorist Burhan Wani could whip up thousands of followers on Facebook?
Who do you think is now the policy manager of Facebook? One who has perhaps used the vilest of language against the BJP and the prime minister Narendra Modi. This man is also abusive to Indian army. Does it look to you that Facebook leans towards BJP or Congress? Now we learn that Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is summoning Facebook officials to probe their role in the Delhi riots. Doesn’t it make you appear that a lion (BJP) is being hunted down by wolves?
And please don’t be fooled that Facebook once deleted accounts of Congress sympathizers. Or that Ankhi Das was a proof Facebook was supporting BJP. This is a common mode how you cover your tracks. Arguments which you could always throw at your investigators. You throw a few useless, like Ankhi Das, under the bus to appear pious. Meanwhile, parley with big matrons in the background.
Readers you would now say how does it concern you? It of course concerns you a hell of a lot. You are using Social Media platforms which has banned a strong anti-Left-Liberal voice like Dr Anand Ranganathan on twitter. All for quoting a verse from Quran. Do we need to remind how many times True Indology has been banned on twitter? Do we need to recount the hate posts which were made against Kamlesh Tewari for mentioning the Prophet Muhammad and nothing happened to them?
All this is to let you know that your Social Media platforms are rigged. Nobody knows how their algorithms work. First came the Indian newspapers with monopoly on news and ideas. Then it was democratized with the onset of internet. Now we have same monopolistic roaches, teeming on the floor, which decide who comes in into the kitchen and who stay out. The powers of this world have always wanted to rule the humanity. Whenever masses are empowered, these monsters strike back.
You and I thus stand no chance. The only hope are those who want truth at all costs. It could be you, me or a few of our brave websites. The ones who also hope that one day Indian state and its brightest would work out new Social Media platforms which we could call our own.
Till then, suffer. But fight.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
If you were a Rajdeep Sardesai or Shekhar Gupta or Barkha Dutt, you would wish for a return of pre-2014 days. You could write or broadcast what you wanted, unchallenged, unquestioned; behemoth of India’s media, sought by global media outlets; prime ministers and presidents, kings and queens, knocking at your door for interviews; film stars lining up as if for auditions. You were firmly in your ivory tower, never seen in grocery shops or bookstores, metros or airports, malls or traffic stops.
Then winds changed. India’s right-wingers took hold in Centre. Websites, such as OpIndia and Swarajyamag among others, began nicking the bubble. The lies were exposed, bigotry was unmasked, anti-Hindu stance was bared in public. History began breaking free from the narrative of glorious Mughals, valiant Tipu Sultan, soothing Amir Khusru and pacifist Ashoka. One began viewing a Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Audrey Truschke, Sheldon Pollock in the light they deserved. Amartya Sen and Raghuram Rajan lost their halo. The benign mask of neutrality dropped like shame around our film stars and directors. Writers and academicians were revealed to be peddlers. Jurists and legal luminaries were found to be men of straw.
An avalanche was thus set in motion. The ecosystem began drowning in the outrage of the masses. Narendra Modi won over the poor; the intelligent found the counter-narrative on social media. Eco-system upped the game, terming every threat as trolls or bhakts. Internet warriors, on their part, found new converts. Eco-system termed the rivals as fake news peddlers. Lutyens Media began organizing debates and seminars to save their turf. Anyone or anything which didn’t agree with them was “fake news”. The entire game was one of credibility – and they were losing it. The 2019 Elections confirmed their worst fears.
Now a new round of conflict has been set in motion. The eco-system has realized they have been outnumbered. Social Media platforms are rallying such mass to grow in size. The “fake news” narrative hasn’t helped. So they have now launched a new initiative. This initiative doesn’t just have newspapers and news agencies, it has also roped in biggies like the Google, Facebook and Twitter. “Fake News” has been given a new name of “misinformation.” What was seen as “local” divide in Indian context, now has acquired “global” dimension. We might just have stumbled upon the global network which feeds and breeds this “eco-system” to disrupt India.
The Hindu has a front-page anchor today where it has grandiosely announced that it is partnering BBC and other global media outlets to fight the “misinformation” in public domain. That it wants to protect its audience. That BBC set it in motion through a “Trusted News Summit” earlier this year. That those in it together include European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Facebook, Financial Times, Google, AFP, Microsoft, Reuters, Twitter, BBC and of course The Hindu. That,they would alert each other when a “misinformation” is to be fought.
It’s a new challenge to India’s internet warriors. So far, we knew the bias of, say Twitter, which suspended accounts (e.g of True Indology, Sonam Mahajan etc) made twitterati remove tweets (Paresh Rawal) while those with similar offence (Shehla Rashid etc) kept flourishing. Netizens were able to dig up the dirt on Raheel Khursheed, CEO of Twitter (2014-2018), on his pro-Pakistan bias. Parliamentarians were outraged enough to summon twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. The clamour against Twitter’s alleged bias has only grown bigger in our times. Dorsey has admitted his staff could be overwhelmingly Left-leaning.
So how should internet warriors respond to this openly-aligned forces against them? First, it must leverage its numbers. Every sixth of twitter’s worldwide users is from India. Is has grown in leaps and bounds in last two years. This collective might must be leveraged by netizens, hopefully under the benevolent gaze of the government.
The time perhaps has also come for India to come up with their own micro-blogging platform such as one of Sina Weibo which China has. It’s a mix of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. India could thus also protect its own data. The internet giants would have no option but to fall in line.
Importantly, The eco-system is getting ready to bite you—what’s your response?