Full disclosure: Facebook is one of the sponsors of The Media Rumble, the annual event organised by Newslaundry in partnership with Teamwork Arts.
Last week, the reported that Facebook flouted its own rules to let BJP leaders in India and other “Hindu nationalist individuals and groups” spread communal hatred through the social media platform. The hatemongers were given a pass at the instance of Ankhi Das, Facebook’s head of public policy in India, apparently to avoid harming the tech giant’s business prospects in its biggest market by users, the newspaper added.
Now, Mahua Moitra has claimed that the BJP is trying to scuttle an inquiry into the matter by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology. The Trinamool Congress MP is a member of the committee. Its chairman, Shahi Tharoor of the Congress, has announced that they will “look into the issue” and “seek the views of Facebook”. They will consider testimony within the ambit of “safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms”.
Speaking to NDTV last night, Moitra noted that a BJP representative on the parliamentary committee, Nishikant Dubey, had announced that he would approach the Lok Sabha speaker against the inquiry. “I don’t see what the great love affair between Facebook and the BJP is,” Moitra said. “Why does a BJP member take it so personally?”
Moitra also recalled that during a previous session of the parliament, the speaker organised a “technology training programme” for women MPs. It turned out to be like a “Facebook birthday party”, with Ankhi Das and other Facebook executives in attendance.
“I was shocked,” Moitra said, adding that “private entities and non-governmental organisations, especially foreign entities, are not normally allowed” to conduct such programmes on the premises of the parliament.
The parliament’s rules and procedures, however, do not explicitly state what events are allowed to be held on the premises. The set of rules for both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have been designed to address the conduct of members inside the lower and upper houses. All else is left to the discretion of the speaker of the Lok Sabha and the chairperson of the Rajya Sabha.
In the parliament annexes, which hosted the Facebook programme, lectures, training sessions, movie screenings, cultural events have been held in the past. The speaker and the chairperson can give permission for an event to take place, whereas the booking of venues and making other arrangements is an administrative function of the secretariat. There are specific rules of conduct that apply to the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha but not to the premises of the parliament as a whole. While “strangers” are not allowed to enter the two houses, they may be allowed to enter the premises after getting permission from the authorities concerned.
Moreover, tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter often hold training sessions for MPs in different cities about how to maximise their reach using the social media platforms as a part of their policy and public engagement initiatives.
To get a better sense of what the controversy around Facebook India is all about, listen to the last two episodes of our Daily Dose podcast.
To understand how parliamentary committees work, watch this episode of Consti-tuition: