In February last, Kapil Mishra, a former BJP legislator gave a speech warning the police that if they did not clear the anti-NRC anti-CAA demonstrators from the sites of protest in Delhi, his supporters would do so by force. Within hours of the videotaped message, which Mr. Mishra uploaded on Facebook, rioting broke out that left dozens of people dead. Most of the victims were Muslims, and some of their killings were organized via Facebook’s WhatsApp, according to court documents filed by police and published in Indian media. Not only Delhi riots, it is stated that there had been at least 30 lynching incidents in last four years and the hate messages posted on Facebook had a contribution in all those gruesome killings. Similarly, incendiary WhatsApp posts had a role in triggering communal conflagration in Muzaffarnagar and Bangalore before 2019 parliament election. But why did not the BJP government take any action?
Facts unearthed in Wall Street Journal article
The reason is now exposed in an article published in Wall Street Journal (WSJ), a well-known international daily published from US, on 14 August 2020 WSJ quoted a number of Facebook India employees to indicate a nexus between Facebook and the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and claimed that the social media platform was opposed to the idea of removing incendiary posts by the BJP leaders, since it thought it would hurt the company’s “commercial interests” in a big market like India. The WSJ article also brought to the fore that top Facebook executives in India were under pressure not to take any action against any objectionable or inflammable posts—rather allow those to have wider circulation. It also alleged that Facebook, a large social networking site widely used worldwide by the Netzines, was biased in its functioning in India as it ignored its own ‘hate speech policy’ and allowed anti-minority offensive posts on its platform. The WSJ report has exposed that the ruling BJP in our country has been having a bonhomie with the Facebook top brass and has thereby derived huge electoral and political mileage. Coming under heat, Facebook issued a statement – “We prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally regardless of anyone’s political position or party affiliation. While we know there is more to do, we are making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy.” But this desperate face-saving attempt did neither negate its questionable activities and conduct nor contain the enormous damage caused to the people of India many of whom tend to get swayed by fake or motivated uploads on social media, inflicting immense harm to themselves. This also is another testimony of how the ruling bourgeois parties and their helmsmen collude with the social media barons to dupe people with false news just for reaping electoral advantage and winning the race for power. For that they do not care to take help even from beyond their country, to influence and dupe their own countrymen.
Cambridge Analytica episode
It bears recall the Cambridge Analytica episode that came to light in 2016. Channel 4 of UK recorded in a secret tape the boastful claim of Alexander Nix, CEO of Cambridge Analytica, a marketing consultancy firm, stated to have been hired by Donald Trump for strategizing his electoral campaign. Nix was heard saying that by using limited data from Facebook, his company was able to influence the Brexit (exit of Britain from European Union) and 2016 US presidential elections in which Donald Trump clinched a surprise victory. In fact, Trump tweeted, somewhat cryptically, in 2017: “Soon you will be calling me Mr. Brexit.” Political observers had indeed noticed some striking similarities between Trump’s agenda and that of the apologists of Brexit. But few had then any inkling of Trump’s Cambridge Analytica link nor did they know that Facebook had an important role to play in the 2016 election of Donald Trump, by boosting false news reports and Russian disinformation campaign while allowing the president’s campaign to deliver targeted messages to voters.
Obviously, there was a commotion around the world about data breach, allegedly orchestrated by Facebook. Facebook has long been taking refuge under the pretext that it is an “intermediary” and not media itself. Yet it has emerged as a paramount source of information that no newspaper or television channel can even dream of, and that too in the preferred language of the user. Cambridge Analytica was accused of turning democratic election into a farce, by undertaking psychological profiles of the voters based on “likes” and “dislikes’ of an advertisement or post on Facebook by a user.
Every purchase one made with credit cards, every search one typed into Google, every movement one made when a mobile phone was in one’s pocket and every “like” to uploads were stored. For a long time, it was not entirely clear what use this data could have. But later it became clear that psycho-analysis of such data collected from US using various mathematical models could determine with around 80-90 % accuracy many details like the skin colour, intelligence level, religious affiliation, extent of alcohol, cigarette and drug use as well as their affiliation to the Democratic or Republican party of US. It was found later that a company called Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) once showed interest in obtaining such models from Michal Kosinskia, a young assistant professor of psychology department of Stanford University in US, against hefty payment. SCL introduced itself as an ‘election management company’ which markets a political party or any candidate based on psychological modelling and its core focus was influencing elections. The same SCL, in 2013, spun off a new company, Cambridge Analytica, to assess public mind in US by infringing on their privacy in the form of securing various data of their economic and social practices and behaviours from digital and social media sources. Some of the offshoots of SCL were later revealed to have been involved in elections from Ukraine to Nigeria, in helping the Nepalese monarch against the rebels, as well as influencing Eastern European and Afghan citizens to favour NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an imperialist political and military alliance). Thus, it was evident from then onwards that interfaces with Facebook and other networks could enable the operators to collect and store many informations which the vested interest can use not only for electoral gains in favour of its nominees but for many ulterior purposes as well.
Questionable acts of Facebook and its associate e-platforms
Facebook audits’ associates Instagram and WhatsApp platforms, as all available reports and indications point out, allow interested quarters to collate multi-level data to manipulate public opinion, utilize it to muzzle voice of protest or haul up political opponents or precipitate communal-racial conflagration to disunite toiling people and exacerbate political polarization in the lead-up to elections. These platforms are also reported to have facilitated the growth of violent extremist groups like the ‘boogaloo’ movement in the US. On 29 May, when the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests against brutal killing of George Floyd by racist police were sweeping across US, ignoring rapid spread of Covid 19, US President twitted: “When looting starts, the shooting starts”. Twitter, after 2 hours, acknowledged that such a post was violative of the code of the company because it ‘glorified violence’. Though the post was ‘hidden’, it was not deleted.
It is also reported that Facebook posts had a facilitating role in the anti-Rohingya genocide by Myanmar Military junta. An UNO-sponsored investigative mission observed that Facebook did not delete the pages provoking anti-Rohingya violence. In March 2019, a white supremacist gunman fired on the Muslims attending Friday prayers in a mosque in Christchurch in New Zealand, killing 51 and grievously injuring 48. That barbaric incident was covered live by Facebook. Before that, when a migrant Muslim worker from West Bengal was burnt alive in Rajasthan by an arch communal Hindutvawadi man in 2017, a live video of that was circulated in WhatsApp. When questioned who had uploaded such an inhuman video, the WhatsApp authorities said that an ‘end to end inscription was working’ and hence they were unaware as to who took the video and who circulated the same among whom.
Of late, Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook scientist who worked for Facebook’s Site Integrity fake management team, has come forth with shocking revelations backed with evidence and examples that show how Facebook authorities allowed and ignored certain red flags that went against its Community Standards. According to her, countries including India, Ukraine, Spain, Brazil, and Ecuador utilized the social media platform to perform coordinated campaigns to promote and malign political outcomes, changing the course of the elections.
After a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief and one of the richest persons in the world, the ‘Stop Hate for Profit Coalition’ a civil rights group, said at a press meet on 7 July last that Facebook had not met any of the Coalition’s 10 outstanding demands, which include having Facebook install a C-suite-level executive with civil rights expertise to make key decisions about discrimination; to conduct regular third-party audits of misinformation and hate speech on the platform; and to remove Facebook groups promoting things like white nationalism and anti-Semitism.” It was abundantly clear in our meeting today that Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team are not yet ready to address the vitriolic hate on their platform…and instead “offered the same old defence of white supremacist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and other hateful groups” that was “heard too many times before.” Ashok Chandwaney, a software engineer working in Facebook quit the company on 8 September last, saying that he no longer wanted to work for an organization that was “profiting off hate”. “Violent hate groups and far-right militias are out there, and they’re using Facebook to recruit and radicalize people who will go on to commit violent hate crimes. So where’s the metric about this?” he asked.
Revelations of Facebook-BJP nexus in India
We now come to the scandal of Facebook in India. By 2010, India was among Facebook’s top five lucrative markets, with the number of subscribers having shot up from 8 million to 15.5 million within six months. This prompted the choice of India as the site for Facebook’s first offices in Asia. For the same reason, Facebook acquired WhatsApp four years later by spending $19 billion.
In Germany, Singapore, Vietnam and other countries, Facebook had to agree to abide by stricter hate-speech rules and append a “correction notice” to news stories deemed false by the government. But in India, the situation is different. Hate and bigotry run deep in Indian society because of definite socio-historic reasons, and with the ruling BJP, its mentor RSS and other arch Hindu communal associates continuously fanning up anti-minority sentiment to cling on to power by riding an artificially created divide between two religious communities, fake news or a video clip targeting minorities generates lakhs of views and shares on Facebook and Twitter. Even the notorious IT cell of the BJP also plays a key role in circulation and share of such posts. These large scale circulation and share of uploads mean more money for the networking companies like Facebook and WhatsApp. At the same time, fact-checking reports debunking them find fewer audiences in a communally polarized religiously fanatic bigoted society. Since India has more Facebook and WhatsApp users than any other country, and Facebook has chosen it as the market in which to introduce payments, encryption and initiatives to tie its products together in new ways have started. In April, Facebook announced that it would invest $5.7 billion on a new partnership with Reliance Jio, a cut-price Indian telecom operator owned by Mukesh Ambani, the richest Indian monopolist and very close to PM Modi, to expand operations in the country. This would be Facebook’s biggest foreign investment. “Our excitement is with connecting the dots between WhatsApp and Jio with the objective of helping millions of kirana owners to digitise their product catalogues,” said Ajit Mohan, vice-president and managing director, Facebook India, at an event organised by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). Pertinent to recall that in 2017, Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook chief said in a post, “Beyond voting, the greatest opportunity is helping people stay engaged with the issues that matter to them every day, not just every few years at the ballot box. We can help establish direct dialogue and accountability between people and our elected leaders. In India, Prime Minister Modi has asked his ministers to share their meetings and information on Facebook so they can hear direct feedback from citizens.” According to Facebook’s own data, from 7 April 2014, the day the general election was announced in India, to 12 May – the final day of the nine-phased process — 29 million people in India had put out 227 million posts, comments, shares and likes on Facebook, with an additional 13 million making 75 million interactions involving Shri Modi. Once he was ensconced in power, the synergy between the two only deepened, cemented further by strategic visits by Narendra Modi and Mark Zuckerberg to each other’s headquarters. For Facebook, the constant endeavour was to embed itself ever-deeper into Indian politics. In 2017, Bloomberg published a report which said that in India, Facebook employees had become “de facto campaign workers”. Facebook “helped develop the online presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi”, it claimed. “As Modi’s social media reach grew, his followers increasingly turned to Facebook and WhatsApp to target harassment campaigns against his political rivals. Hindu extremists who back Modi’s party have used social media to issue death threats against Muslims or critics of the government”, the report added. Indian journalists Cyril Sam and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta wrote a series of articles in 2018 about the social media platform’s “dominant position in India with more than a little help from friends of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP”, among other things. In another book released in 2019, they stated that along with Facebook’s other arm WhatsApp, a systematic web of fake and potentially dangerous news was spread, in the run-up to the elections and on a regular basis.Through Facebook and WhatsApp, huge volumes of data were “scraped from public sources, including electoral rolls and polling booth forms” to “geo-fence” areas and map vote-swings in preparation for the 2014 election, they wrote further in that book. Caravan magazine of India published a report in 2018 on how an investigation which it had done on allegations of corruption against Joy Shah, son of Amit Shah, Union home minister and the second man of PM Modi, had been throttled by Facebook. Later that year, the Newsclick published a five-part investigation showing how “senior employees of Facebook in India have in the past worked, and continue to work, very closely with the country’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi since 2011″. It is further reported that four months before the Lok Sabha elections in May 2019, the BJP had sent to Facebook India a list of 44 pages which had posted content against the party. But the BJP leaders flagged the pages claiming they were “in violation of expected standards” and carried posts that were “not in line with facts.” Fourteen of those pages, including sites in support of Magsaysay award winning journalist Ravish Kumar are no longer available on the social media platform. In a media interview, Vinit Goenka, once the national co-convener of the BJP’s IT cell, was asked: ‘Who helped whom more, Facebook or the BJP?’ He is reported to have smiled and said: ‘That’s a difficult question. I wonder whether the BJP helped Facebook more than Facebook helped the BJP. You could say, we helped each other.’
Perhaps it is due to such close ties with czars of social media and telecom industry and huge interest in serving their business interest in India, that PM Modi has been talking of ‘digital India’. And with the ruling monopolists and their pliant government virtually acting as facilitators, these networking companies owned by global business tycoons find India a free land for reckless loot and plunder.
Revelations in the WSJ Report
In such a backdrop, WSJ reported, based on interviews with current and former Facebook employees, that Facebook has been going easy on hate speech by the ruling BJP leaders and legislators. It is also providing the BJP with favourable treatment on election-related issues. Hence, it warrants an investigation into the matter immediately. But Facebook held that such is being done to protect its interests in its biggest market in India. It is learnt 40 crore Indians surf Facebook while 35 crore use WhatsApp for digital communication. That glaringly unravels an arrangement in which the monopolists and their trusted RSS-BJP derive a huge political mileage whereas the Facebook-WhatsApp-Instagram swell their coffer. This is the face and workings of parliamentary democracy in decadent moribund capitalism today.
According to the WSJ report, T. Raja Singh, a BJP legislator, had once said that Rohingya Muslim immigrants should be shot. He also called the Muslims traitors and threatened to raze the mosques. By March of this year, the Facebook employees in India concluded that allowing such a communally motivated post to circulate in Facebook had not only violated the company’s hate-speech rules but were liable to be qualified as dangerous, a designation that takes into account a person’s off-platform activities.WSJ authorities said that only after they had asked the Facebook to delete the hateful anti-Muslim posts by T Raja Singh, a few of those were taken off. Another BJP Member of Parliament, Anant Kumar Hegde, had posted essays and cartoons to his Facebook page alleging that Muslims were spreading Covid-19 in the country in a conspiracy to wage “Corona Jihad.” Human-rights groups vehemently objected to such unfounded allegations, which violated Facebook’s hate speech rules. Facebook took no action until WSJ sought comment from the company about Hegde’s “Corona Jihad” and then removed only some of the objectionable posts. Had there been a self-regulatory mechanism in Facebook, Ravi Pujar, a 31-year-old engineering student from Chhattisgarh could not run a fake Facebook accounts posing as Nisha Jindal, a woman and posting bigoted comments. It is the same with Facebook-owned WhatsApp, which also do not crack down on hate videos, including those related to mob lynching, many of which are edited and even supported by morphed pictures to disturb peace.
It is also learnt from WSJ report that the Facebook employees assigned the responsibility of keeping a watch on Facebook posts in India wanted to remove an upload by a BJP leader giving threat of killing members of one community and burning their prayer centre. But the firm’s top public policy executive in India, Ankhi Das, opposed applying “hate speech rules to Mr Singh and at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in the violence”. Ms Das, WSJ has reported, told the employees that “punishing violations by politicians from Mr Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”. It was further reported that according to the current and former Facebook employees, Ms. Das’s intervention on behalf of T. Raja Singh is part of a broader pattern of favouritism by Facebook towards Narendra Modi, the BJP and the Hindutva brigade. A year before, the Guardian had published a report that highlighted just how good Ankhi Das’ connections were in the Modi government. “We used to joke that it was like she was Modi’s granddaughter,” one Facebook executive told the paper. A photograph of Ankhi Das with PM Modi surfaced in the media in 2014.
Other findings of Facebook—Hindutva brigade tie-up
A team of 20 international researchers – that included Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and others – systematically recorded 1,000 Facebook posts that they found to be in violation of the platform’s community standards. This research commissioned by ‘Equality Labs’, an advocacy group, has concluded that the social networking giant has done little to effectively moderate speeches which violate the company’s own guidelines. The report which published snapshot of what is going on with their (Facebook’s) content moderation. When investigated as to how so much hate speech has become normalised, they found that over 40% of all the posts that were removed after being pointed out were restored after a period of 90 days on average. An overwhelming majority of the posts that were restored were Islamophobic in nature. One Ram Singh calling himself a Hindu is reported to have shared a post on Facebook on 24 November 2018 in which he quoted Yogi Adityanath, the UP chief minister to have said: ‘Those illegitimate children whose mothers took their salwars off (salwar is a ladies’ garment) after seeing swords in the hands of Mughals today proudly claim to be Muslim’. We do not know wherefrom he secured the lines and whether such was a bona fide quote or a fake one. But it surely had done the damage it was intended for. Such hate speeches abound in Facebook and WhatsApp. There have also been posts targeting Christian minorities in India, the report notes. Not only religion-oriented hate speeches or contents, even the rate of removal of objectionable posts on casteism has been lowest. Misogyny and posts that promote online violence against women continue to plague the platform, as do transphobic and homophobic posts.
BJP leaders admit in private their expertise in circulating hate or fake news
What is most astonishing is that the BJP top brass do not mince matter to admit using fake news or hate posts to achieve their ends. Dainik Bhaskar, a leading Hindi daily, had published a part of an address by Amit Shah in Kota, Rajasthan, to its IT cell members in 2018 where he said that the party’s social media volunteer had the power to make any message go viral, whether real or fake. The portion reproduced in that paper was as follows:
“In the elections that took place in Uttar Pradesh a year ago, BJP’s social media workers made two big WhatsApp groups. One had 15 lakh members, the other 17 lakhs. This means a total of 32 lakhs. And every day at 8 am they would send ‘Know the Truth’. In which the truth about all the false stories printed in the newspapers about the BJP was given via WhatsApp, and it would go viral. And whichever paper had carried these stories, ordinary people, and social media, would get after them, that why have you printed lies, you should print the truth. And by doing this, slowly, the media became neutral….But we had a volunteer who was smart. As I said, messages go from bottom to top and top to bottom. He put a message in the group – that Akhilesh Yadav had slapped Mulayam Singh. No such thing had happened. Mulayam and Akhilesh were 600 km apart. But he put this message. And the social media team spread it. It spread everywhere. By 10 that day my phone started ringing, bhaisahab, did you know Akhilesh slapped Mulayam…. So the message went viral. One should not do such things. But in a way he created a certain mahaul (perception). This is something worth doing but don’t do it! (Crowd laughs) Do you understand what I am saying? This is something worth doing but don’t do it! We can do good things too. We are capable of delivering any message we want to the public, whether sweet or sour, true of fake. We can do this work only because we have 32 lakh people in our WhatsApp groups. That is how we were able to make this viral.”
Perhaps there is no need to elaborate the message conveyed in that speech. Amit Shah, it can be remembered, had no problem to say in media glare that the pre-electoral promise of giving Rs 15 lakhs to the bank account of each citizen jobs by the BJP was a chunavi jumla (electoral gimmick)
Foul class design of ruling capitalism is unfolded with all virulence
If anyone commits a fraud or forgery, it is viewed as a cognizable offence. If anyone sets one section of the people against another, persecute anyone or a group of people with a mala fide intention, it is viewed as an uncivilized and undemocratic act which is punishable as per existing lawbook. If one deliberately misleads others with false information or provocative utterances, that too also invokes penal action. In the sphere of Information Technology, cybercrime is a criminal activity that either targets or uses a computer, a computer network or a networked device. Most of the cybercrimes are committed by cyber criminals or hackers who want to make money. This too is a crime which is liable for stringent punishment. So, if a networking outfit advances undue favour to someone for buttressing commercial interest without caring for the detrimental outcome of such an action, it ought to be considered as a serious crime. In India, the term “cyber-crimes” is not defined in any statute or rulebook. The Information Technology Act, 2000 (“IT Act”) and the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) penalise a number of cyber-crimes and unsurprisingly, there are many provisions in the IPC and the IT Act that overlap with each other. Section 66E of the IT Act prescribes punishment for violation of privacy and provides that any person who intentionally or knowingly captures, publishes or transmits the image of a private area of any person without his or her consent, under circumstances violating the privacy of that person, shall be punished. Contrarily, Section 79 of the IT Act exempts intermediaries like Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter from liability in most circumstances, including if the intermediary did not put out the content and had observed due diligence while discharging duties under the Act. This way, the tech giants are allowed to get away without even a rap on the knuckles, notwithstanding the fact that the material posted on their platform may have resulted in communal riots or deaths. The BJP government announced in 2018 that it was planning to amend Section 79 and make it mandatory for internet companies to take down content deemed inappropriate by authorities and also trace and report within 72 hours of the origin of that content. But, later, on the pretext of concerns over privacy, the plan was dropped. A former National Cyber Security Coordinator in the Prime Minister’s Office had reportedly suggested to the tech giants and senior government functionaries a few years ago that weeding out anonymous users could check offending circulations and communally sensitive material, on social media. But his suggestion went unheeded. It could not be otherwise as the ruling BJP has been the biggest beneficiary of the wrongdoings of the Facebook and its associates. It is worth mentioning here that as shown by great Marx in the “Communist Manifesto”, the bourgeoisie in its rising period had “torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors,” and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest”. But now in its decadence, “the bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage-labourers.”
The WSJ expose has also unfolded how the bourgeois parliamentarian parties instrumental in sustaining a fascist autocracy in dying capitalism disrupt people’s unity by precipitating artificial divides, trigger fratricidal bloodbath or carnage by inciting communal-casteist-chauvinist-linguistic passion or fanaticism by taking recourse to false, if not malicious, propaganda and circulation of doctored news and how the networking giants misuse modern technology to operationalize such a hidden class design of the ruling monopolists with a view to providing extra lease to utterly reactionary and corrupt obsolete capitalist rule. “Facebook will salute anybody who’s in power in the country. Today, the BJP is in power … any of these companies will let any Prime Minister of India hug them and they will do it with a big smile, irrespective of who the prime minister is because they want the Indian market. So if the Congress was in power, they will do the same thing to the Congress,” observed Shekhar Gupta, a noted journalist. WSJ also showed how the elections in degenerated parliamentary democracy have been reduced into a farce with money-media-administrative power calling the shot from behind, taking advantage of low level of political consciousness of the oppressed and deceived masses. Advancement of information technology is an endowment of science. Science has been hand-maiden of civilization. But science is no personality. Whether it will act good or bad is dependent on how it is used. Nuclear power can generate electricity and facilitate lot of other utilities to make life better for mankind. But at the same time, nuclear power can be misused to create bombs and other weapons of mass destruction. Similarly, misuse and abuse of Information Technology by the imperialist-capitalist rulers and their servitors, instead of smoothening people’s life is impairing it in every possible way. But, as the saying goes, ‘sin does never remain shielded for long’. Howsoever cunningness and wily acumen the power-monger bourgeois leaders and parties might possess, their perceived flawless iron castle cannot but have leaks which uncover the stench of the mounting rot within. WSJ episode is a glaring testimony of that.
Source of information:
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