Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Manish Tewari opens a pandora’s box, writes to Facebook asking to contact his US-based lobbyist on alleged Facebook-BJP links

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— Consider reading the article Manish Tewari opens a pandora’s box, writes to Facebook asking to contact his US-based lobbyist on alleged Facebook-BJP links on OpIndia website —

Days after the Wall Street Journal published an article claiming that BJP has links with social media giant Facebook, BJP’s IT cell head Amit Malviya has made some shocking revelations about Congress leaders hiring lobbyists in the USA to spread propaganda. Malviya posted a letter written by Congress MP Manish Tewari to Facebook, where he had asked the company to contact his lobbyist in the USA for any further information.

Manish Tewari wrote the letter to Facebook on 18th August, referring to the WSJ article published on 14th August. Saying that the article accuses of one Facebook executive of being biased towards the BJP led NDA government, Manish Tewari sought a response from the company on the matter. Tewari also noted that the allegation of Facebook bending its Global Hate Speech Policies at the behest of the Indian executive is a direct assault on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India.

Apart from seeking response from Facebook on the WSJ article, Manish Tewari also informed the company that if they want to add any additional thought, and if they require any immediate assistance or clarification in the matter, they can contact his senior policy advisor Dr. Bharath Gopalaswamy of Washington DC.

Now, this revelation that Bharath Gopalaswamy is Manish Terwari’s ‘senior policy advisor’ has opened a pandora’s box, according to Amit Malviya.

This is because, Bharath Gopalaswamy was the Director in an organisation that works with Facebook to manage content related to politics and elections. He was the director of the Atlantic Council from 2013 to 2019. In 2018, Facebook had entered into a partnership with the Washington DC based Atlantic Council to use their services to prevent ‘abuse of their service’ during elections and other sensitive occasions.

A statement issued by Facebook had said that the Digital Forensic Research Lab of the Atlantic Council works closely with Facebook to provide real-time insights and updates on emerging threats and disinformation campaigns from around the world. “This will help increase the number of “eyes and ears” we have working to spot potential abuse on our service — enabling us to more effectively identify gaps in our systems, preempt obstacles, and ensure that Facebook plays a positive role during elections all around the world,” Facebook had said.

They had also informed that they will Atlantic services during elections and other highly sensitive moments, which will allow them to focus on a particular geographic area. The agreement between Atlantic Council and Facebook makes it clear that the former decides who is spreading misinformation and who is not, and based on their input, Facebook takes action.

Although Atlantic Council is known as a bipartisan and centrist organisation, it actually specialises in working with political and ideological propaganda. It has been accused to be a tool of American imperialist forces, with the ability to manipulate and influence political outcomes in countries around the world to suit American interests.

According to Amit Malviya, when a large number of pages were deleted by Facebook last year, the following of deleted pro-right wing pages were much more than the following of deleted pro-Congress pages. He informs that this process was led by the Atlantic Council.

“In light of these revelations, it is puzzling that the INC, at the first instance, has clandestinely chosen to use the services of Bharat Gopalaswamy to lobby for INC with Facebook. It is clear that by using the services of Think Tanks/its members, who use the charade of academic neutrality, INC has compromised its position. It is clear such alliances and services are used to gain access to FB’s management to influence the political process in India,” Amit Malviya said.

He said that such an explicit relation of Congress leaders with overseas influencer raises ethical and conflict of interest issues. Amit Malviya also expressed surprise that the Congress was using the services of a lobbyist to influence a private company like Facebook. “Lobbyists are the paid persuaders whose job is to influence the decision of Govts, but what amazes us is the use of such persuaders to influence the decisions of private corporations like Facebook,” he said.

Another important point raised by Amit Malviya is the issue of a sitting MP of Parliament using the services of a foreign lobbyist.

It may be noted that Manish Tewari himself was also associated with Atlantic Council, he had joined the organisation in 2017 as a senior fellow. Later that year, he had hosted Rahul Gandhi at an event in the organisation in Washington DC in September 2017.

This shows that, while Congress alleges Facebook of being partial towards BJP based on a report which was based on unknown sources, the party’s senior leadership has been associated with an influential organisation that has the power to control the political narrative on Facebook. In the words of Amit Malviya, “To operate behind close doors through quiet negotiations by using array of tactics to shape public opinion, the Indian National Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi and her son, has touched a new low in the politics.”

It may be noted while Manish Tewari says in his letter dated 18th that Facebook has not responded to the WAJ article, actually the company had already refuted the claims made in the article a day before. On 17th August, a Facebook spokesperson had said, “We prohibit hate speech & content that incites violence & we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position/party affiliation. We’re making progress on enforcement & conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness & accuracy.”

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