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Indian IT minister accuses Facebook of bias amid row over content

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s information technology minister accused Facebook on Tuesday of censoring content from people supportive of right wing ideology in the latest salvo at the social media giant over content regulation in its biggest user market.

FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration taken March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, reviewed by Reuters, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said he had been told that Facebook’s India management team had made a concerted effort to censor such content ahead of India’s 2019 election.

“The above documented cases of bias and inaction are seemingly a direct outcome of the dominant political beliefs of individuals in your Facebook India team,” Prasad wrote in his letter, without citing particular examples.

“Facebook must not only be fair and neutral, but also visibly seen to be so, to users of diverse beliefs and ideologies.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prasad’s letter came amid growing political controversy in India over how Facebook regulates political content in a major market where it has more than 300 million users.

Facebook and its top lobbying executive in India, Ankhi Das, drew criticism from left-leaning opposition lawmakers after the Wall Street Journal reported that she opposed applying hate-speech restrictions to some Hindu nationalist individuals and groups, fearing damage to Facebook’s business prospects.

Lawmakers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in turn accused Facebook of censoring nationalist voices and dismissed criticism that the U.S. company was in any way favouring the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party.

In response to past criticism in India, Facebook has said it is a non-partisan platform that condemns bigotry and that it will continue to remove content posted by public figures when it violates its so-called community standards.

In his letter, Prasad called on Facebook to put in place country-specific guidelines to regulate content.

Facebook employees have in recent weeks questioned whether proper content regulation policies were being followed in India, and urged the company to ensure more policy consistency, Reuters has reported.

Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Writing by Aditya Kalra and Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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