It is no surprise that every politician views the current controversy over the alleged bias of the popular social media platform, Facebook, through their own ideological blinkers. Since we are yet to shed our inferiority complex about western media, treating it as gospel truth, and according its representatives god-like status, the current fuss is over a so-called investigative report by the India correspondent of the Rupert Murdoch financial daily, The Wall Street Journal. This has led the ruling and opposition parties to take mutually contradictory positions. Shashi Tharoor, MP, threatens to summon Facebook to account for itself before the parliamentary standing committee on information technology, of which he happens to be the current chairman. Even the AAP government in the Union Territory of Delhi has got into the act, giving notice of its intent to call a Facebook representative to explain itself.
Being MPs and MLAs seems to overnight make superior beings of ordinary men and women, this being the strength of our representative republican order. But that power must always be used with becoming circumspection, and, more importantly, without any display of malice and prejudice. Unfortunately, in this case a concern for fairness seems to have been abandoned at the very threshold, with protagonists on both sides of the political divide taking wholly partisan positions. It is therefore unsurprising that the BJP leaders have questioned Tharoor’s right to summon Facebook without first getting the nod of the parliamentary standing committee on information technology. Regardless of how scant notice the report actually attracted in the US where the WSJ is printed and Facebook is headquartered, Indians were quick to latch on to it throw stones at one another. Educated, middle-class Indians still invest a disproportionately high degree of faith in a westerner’s viewpoint rather than rely on their own compatriots’ wisdom and opinions.
To allege that Facebook is biased in favour of the ruling party because its bosses are concerned about the bottomline is a mere allegation, regurgitated by the WSJ reporter on the basis of an alleged inside account. Unless it is verified with evidence, it is senseless to treat it as true. The Telangana BJP MLA, whose divisive posts are cited in the report to buttress the charge of a pro-right tilt, is on record alleging that his account was hacked in the past and that despite complaints, no action was taken to rectify the wrong impression.
Now, any organisation as large as Facebook would not only have on its rolls its share of disgruntled elements as it would have those with strong ideological biases. All that the so-called investigative report does is that it catalogues the grievances of a number of people working in the organisation, who for whatever reason, don’t like its current editorial policy. To suggest that Facebook is now a vehicle for right-wing propaganda, that it is spreading hate and religious divisions is intended not so much to take down the polarising material --- which, not to put too much of a gloss over it, is the bread and butter of such platforms --- as to intimidate its bosses into tilting markedly Leftwards. It is a typical tactic of left-liberals to force anyone who does not endorse their partisan agenda, who has an alternative world-view, on the defensive.
Whether or not Facebook editors knowingly allowed hateful content to go uncensored, seeking to expose their writers to the wider audiences in poor light, or for whatever reason, the nameless insiders who fed the distorted story to the WSJ, and which the reporter bought hook, line and sinker, have succeeded in portraying the platform as a tool of right-wing propaganda.
Rajeev Chandrashekar, a former Silicon Valley professional and now a BJP member of the Rajya Sabha, in a perceptive article in a contemporary on Tuesday laid bare the conspiracy that lurks behind such investigative reports: The WSJ report is a hatchet job by some Left elements in Facebook against Facebook. Very well put, indeed. The point is it is better that the heavy hand of officialdom refrains from policing the social media platforms unless it becomes absolutely necessary in the larger interest of national security. Platforms permitting abusive and hate-filled content sooner than later begin to lose their appeal for ordinary consumers of social media. Otherwise, each regime in power will come to dictate editorial content of popular digital platforms and eventually lead to their slow demise.