Executives from Facebook and Twitter, who appeared before a parliamentary committee today, faced rigorous questions on why they blocked the accounts of Union Home Minister Amit Shah in November.
The agenda of today’s meeting included safeguarding citizens’ rights, preventing misuse of social news media platforms and women security in the digital space.
But sources said the executives were questioned why Mr Shah’s Twitter account was blocked and who gave them the right to do so. The Twitter officials explained that they had to block the account temporarily as there was a copyright issue regarding a picture posted.
When Mr Shah’s account was blocked, Twitter had explained it as an “inadvertent error” under its copyright policies. “This decision was reversed immediately and the account is fully functional,” a spokesperson of the microblogging site had said.
In the backdrop of a huge controversy over hate speech and content being closely monitored and removed in the United States, some members — especially those from the ruling dispensation — questioned how social media platforms could remove content when there is no law against it in India.
Both Twitter and Facebook said they have strong rules regarding content and would remove content when necessary to ensure it does not incite violence.
The rules had been spectacularly upheld recently when Twitter blocked the account of then US President Donald Trump after the unprecedented violence at the Capitol in Washington DC.
In India, Facebook had landed in controversy in September after US publication Wall Street Journal reported that it had overlooked hate speech posted by leaders of the ruling BJP and right wing voices.
WSJ also reported that Facebook’s then India policy chief Ankhi Das had advised against action, saying punishing violations by BJP workers “would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”.
Facebook had defended Ankhi Das, saying policies on hate speech are “not made unilaterally by any one person”.
Today, the social media giant also explained its policy on the new privacy laws of WhatsApp, which has caused concern in India.
Facebook said there is no plan to integrate the two platforms, though WhatsApp is currently integrated with photo sharing site Instagram.
The key issues discussed today included the concern over privacy, monetisation of data and the misinformation in social media. These issues will be raised in a report and hopefully will be taken note of while considering the data privacy law, members of the committee said.