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May 30, 2023

Meta Calls Inquiry on Political Bias in India 'Unnecessary', Activists Urge Shareholders to Vote for Probe

The report was proposed by consumer group Eko to assess allegations that Meta did not do enough to curb Indian political ads on its platforms, and that it prioritised business interests over removing hate speech.
Meta logo. Photo: Pixabay/Artapixel.

New Delhi: Meta’s board of directors has recommended its shareholders to vote against an inquiry into allegations that the company failed to address political bias in its India operations.

The inquiry was proposed by consumer group Eko – formerly known as SumOfUs – and will be voted on by Meta’s shareholders during the company’s annual general meeting on May 31.

“Given our existing transparency around our lobbying activity, our board of directors believes that the preparation of the report contemplated by this proposal is unnecessary and would not provide additional benefit to our shareholders,” the company said in response to Eko’s proposal.

Eko has launched a campaign along with India Civil Watch International (ICWI) and Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) to raise awareness of the allegations against Meta among users of its platforms – including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – and urge shareholders to vote in favour of its proposal, which is officially called Proposal 7.

IFF said in a press release that Proposal 7 “highlights allegations against Facebook for disseminating hate speech, its failure to address risks and political bias, voices concerns around inadequate content moderation and lack of transparency in platform practices”.

“Rather than promptly addressing divisive content, they have prioritised potential business interests over removing a source of hate speech”, it added.

This allegation relates to reports that a top Facebook executive in India refused to act on posts made by BJP politicians and Hindu nationalist entities out of fear that doing so would ruin the company’s relationship with the ruling party.

The press release continues to say that “reports also indicate that Facebook may have allowed political parties to promote surrogate advertisements to boost their visibility”, referring to allegations that Facebook took an uneven approach in clamping down on political advertisements from India.

Also read: ‘Free Speech Vs Disinformation Control’: Report Says False Binary Serves Social Media Sites

Teesta Setalvad, an anti-communalism activist and human rights defender who participated in a human rights impact report on Meta’s India operations, commented on the allegations against Meta.

“Social media, and the particular algorithm of Meta in India has made everything worse. It has given a megaphone to the worst elements in our society, and further disempowered institutional mechanisms to hold them to account,” IFF quoted her as saying.

Eko has also criticised Meta for not being transparent enough in the human rights impact report.

“In 2019, Meta commissioned law firm Foley Hoag for a Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) of its India operations. The four page summary released by Meta provides scant transparency and explicitly acknowledged the assessment “did not assess or reach conclusions” about whether India operations had bias in content moderation,” it said in its proposal.

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