Ranjona Banerji: Facebook – Terrible with Trump, terrified of Modi & the BJP

18 Aug,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


It took The Wall Street Journal to publish an investigation into links between Facebook and the Bharatiya Janata Party for parts of India to wake up to what was happening. Set aside the barbs that the “Indian media would never do such an investigation” for a moment. Because as it turns out, in 2018, Paranjoy Guha-Thakurta and Cyril Sam had done just such an investigation and even published a book. If the WSJ investigation tells you what happened in the 2019 election and after, Guha-Thakurta and Sam exposed the links in the run-up to the election.

Can you even remember what we were discussing in 2018? Whatever it was, it was not this book. The Netflix documentary The Great Hack was released in 2019 and it was a chilling tale of how political parties and movements manipulate our minds using data that we unwittingly provide. Cambridge Analytica was the company that planned and executed that manipulation, and thus helped Donald Trump win a presidential election in America and the Brexit vote go through in Britain, amongst other fiddles (the Congress Party features fleetingly but not to any great success). But Facebook was Cambridge Analytica’s main tool and that was largely thanks to Facebook itself.

The investigation into Facebook in the US had founder-owner Mark Zuckerberg and others claiming they did not know, they stopped it when they knew, never again and all the rest of it. But as the WSJ investigation shows, you believe a large corporation at your own peril.

That the BJP manipulates the media is not a new story. The tragedy for us is that we ignored, did not know, did not pay attention to Guha-Thakurta and Sam’s excellent investigation when we should have. There is no excuse other than the fact that we allowed ourselves to be distracted. You can see now how mainstream media channels which play the BJP’s game of deflection. Look at the long and endless spiral of misinformation and drama that surrounds the sad death of one actor, Sushant Singh Rajput. What would he himself have made of this despicable monetisation of his death by the media and vested interests?

Several links to the FB investigation are posted below. The WSJ itself is a subscription site but others have now taken the story further. In essence, Facebook India was stopped from taking action against hate speech and threats to rape and murder by members of the BJP by its “public policy” officer Ankhi Das. She warned that Facebook India would lose business in India if it did so. And, as it also turned out, Das has close connections to the BJP.

This India stand can be compared to Facebook’s position in the US where it has taken down several posts and accounts which promoted hate and violence. US President Donald Trump and his followers have had their tweets and posts removed by both Twitter and Facebook. From this, one infers that Facebook is not afraid of the President of the United States or the Republic Party but is terrified of the BJP and Narendra Modi?

Or that Facebook is really not bothered at all except by the bad publicity it may get when its main consumers object to open calls for hatred?

The likelihood of sustained objection to hate speech in India is extremely weak. We have seen ample evidence of collusion between the BJP government and large media houses and large business houses, often they are the same thing. In spite of all evidence of economic collapse or perhaps because of it, our esteemed industrialists, business tycoons, corporate heads are ever more eager to kowtow to the Centre, scrounging for crumbs. And because they own or have shares in many media houses, the cycle of acceptance continues.

How far do individual journalists and smaller media outlets care? How big a story is it when BJP MLA in Telangana MT Raja can call for murder of Muslims on Facebook and a senior executive of Facebook India says nothing should be done because it would be bad for business?

You choose.










Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal.



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