The Congress has demanded that the licences of both Facebook and WhatsApp be put on hold and criminal investigation ordered after the Wall Street Journal revealed more dirty links between Facebook’s pro-BJP lobbyist Ankhi Das and the Hindu nationalist party. The party also demanded immediate suspension of Facebook India’s leadership team, which included Das and WhatsApp’s public policy director Shivnath Thukral. TIME magazine had recently exposed Thukral’s dirty nexus with the BJP, raising questions on the safety of messages shared on the Facebook-owned platform.
The Congress party said in a statement, “The Indian National Congress demands: A Joint Parliamentary Committee investigation immediately. A criminal investigation into the affairs of Facebook India and the people named. All pending approvals and licenses for Facebook & WhatsApp to be put on hold until the investigations are completed. Suspension of Facebook India’s leadership team with immediate effect until the conclusion of the investigations. An inquiry by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology into the activities of all Heads of Public Policy teams of foreign technology companies operating in India and establish a code of conduct.”
The Congress said that Facebook and WhatsApp’s role in subverting India’s democracy is now unquestionable and beyond doubt. “Their complicity in propagating hate speech and fake news to favour the BJP in elections is confirmed. What makes it worse is that Facebook’s global leadership team was well aware of the biases and partisanship of their India leadership team but were willing participants, as the latest Wall Street Journal article reveals,” it added.
According to a new report by the Wall Street Journal, Das wrote to a group of Facebook employees in India a day before Narendra Modi swept the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, “We lit a fire to his social media campaign and the rest is of course history,” she wrote.
The WSJ said in its latest report that it accessed several posts by Das shared on Facebook’s internal communications systems that were perceived to be openly supportive of the BJP.
[Also Read: Wall Street Journal’s investigation finds Facebook’s dirty links with BJP hatemongers, says Facebook executive Ankhi Das supported BJP leaders on Islamophobia, helped saffron party in 2019 elections]
Das wrote jubilantly, “It’s taken thirty years of grassroots work to rid India of state socialism finally.” Commenting on the defeat of the Congress-led UPA, Das had praised Modi as the ‘strongman’ who was able to break the former ruling party’s hold. The WSJ also quoted Facebook staff as saying, “sentiments and actions described by Ms. Das conflicted with the company’s longstanding neutrality pledge.”
The report also revealed how Das had trained the BJP for its social media campaign for the 2012 Assembly polls. “‘Success in our Gujarat Campaign,’ Ms. Das wrote of the training of Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party team in October of 2012, noting the campaign was close to reaching a million fans on Facebook,” the WSJ reported.
Facebook’s global elections official, Katie Harbath, had written that Ankhi Das characterised Modi as the ‘George W. Bush of India.’
According to the WSJ report, Das made sure that her support for the BJP was not hidden. “When a fellow staffer noted in response to one of her internal posts that the BJP’s primary opponent, the Indian National Congress, had a larger following on Facebook than Mr. Modi’s individual page, Ms. Das responded: ‘Don’t diminish him by comparing him with INC. Ah well—let my bias not show!!!'”
The latest revelation comes a week after the WSJ reported on Das’s Islamophobia and nexus with the BJP. The pro-BJP lobbyist was forced to apologise after the revelation triggered a rebellion of sorts amongst the employees of Facebook’s international team.
Days later, it emerged that another lobbyist working for Facebook-owned WhatsApp, Shivnath Thukral, too had walked out of a meeting held to discuss the hate speech issued by a BJP lawmaker in Assam.