Banning Facebook and Twitter should not be ruled out

Ban, censor, suppress, disqualify, outlaw are dirty words in a secular democracy, howsoever flawed as Bharat. A time, however, comes when sizeable swathes of the body politic are injected with so much poison by influencers of public opinion acting at the behest of internal and external enemies that it becomes necessary to proscribe them in the national interest.

This may seem the straightest path to a totalitarian state. But if you consider the details, the fake controversy recently sparked by a mischievous news report in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) dated 14 August on the refusal of Facebook’s top policy executive in Bharat (Ankhi Das) to act against the anti-Muslim hate posts of Telengana’ s BJP legislator T Raja Singh, turning the screws on social media (SM) whose levers of control lie beyond our borders may not seem as undemocratic. According to the report: “The current and former Facebook employees said Ms Das’ intervention on behalf of Mr Singh is part of a broader pattern of favouritism by Facebook toward Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindu hard-liners.”

A desperate Congress immediately pounced on the claim and shot off a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding a probe into the conduct of its Indian executives, and the submission of a report “within a reasonable period of time …in view of the “favorite treatment to the BJP on election related issues.” And that till then a new team be formed for Facebook India operations. The twitter team of the party’s ever vigilant shahzada, Rahul Gandhi, got him to tweet: “We cannot allow any manipulation of our head earned democracy through bias, fake news and hate speech. As exposed by @WSJ, Facebook’s involvement in peddling fake and hate news needs to be questioned by all Indians.”

Trash! tripe! twaddle! Every word emanating from the inmates of 24 Akbar Road had a thick overlay of fakery, falsity, and fabrication, a manufactured outrage apparent to even certified dimwits. Because anyone with even a passing familiarity with SM would know that the world’s two biggest platforms, Facebook and Twitter, are owned and run by an army of fundamentalist Left-Liberals working out of their offices in America. Suppression of Rightist sentiment is the official policy of both.

Algorithms put in place ensure that conservative opinions get limited traction in news feeds and timelines. Manual intervention to scale down the following of rightist handles is a regular method of censoring. Even respected handles like True Indology have been taken down because his tweets and counters give the lie to Leftist readings of Bhartiya history. The account of writer, scientist, and academic Ananda Ranganathan, a popular face on TV panel discussions, was recently suspended because he merely quoted a verse from the Koran after rioting Muslims ran amuck at Bangalore on August 11-12: “Those who abuse Allah and His Messenger, Allah has cursed them in this world and the Hereafter and prepared for them a humiliating punishment (sic).” A follow-up tweet reproved, “Let those Muslims who advocate to the contrary have the guts to say they don’t believe in this order.”

The bimbos at Twitter Inc. adjudged the tweets as violative of its rules which say: “You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.” How quoting the Koran infringed rules remains a mystery. Especially since similar norms have never been invoked when Hindu dharmic beliefs are ridiculed or questioned.

Admittedly, the policies of the both the American SM platforms reflect the prevalent political currents back home where the stranglehold of communists (euphemistically known as Leftists) and jihadis in academia and media has been a reality for decades regardless of the political hue of  the incumbent in the White House. Though Republicans have been at the helm for 40 of the last 70 years, the American media remains pronouncedly pro-Democrat.

Barring Fox News, there is virtually no mainstream TV channel or newspaper which reflects the conservative standpoint. The oldest Right-wing newspaper is the New York Post. Established by America’s founding father and federalist Alexander Hamilton, the broadsheet has been continuously published since 1801. It’s earlier name was the New York Evening Post. Rupert Murdoch took over the ownership in 1976 and turned it into a tabloid. Officially, the NYP is the fourth largest circulated daily, but liberals regard it a “force for evil” given its penchant to sensationalize news and events.

The rest of the Right space is taken up by niche semi-monthlies like National Review, and online magazines or websites like the American Spectator, Breitbart News, American Conservative, Washington Times, and the Weekly Standard. None is a national influencer along the lines of liberal bastions like the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, CNN etc. Time was when the Opinion pages of the respected WSJ were conservative in sharp contrast to its news sections, but this seems to have changed in the last few years.

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 polarized public opinion in the US like seldom before. Divisions deepened further with the recent Black Lives Matter campaign in which criminal gangs of protestors looted and ransacked public property, pulled down statues of white American icons. The daily dog fights between holders of rival worldviews is fully reflected on both SM platforms. Two-years ago Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had admitted a Leftist bias when faced with criticism from President Trump that the social media giant was “shadow banning” and silencing conservative voices. Dorsey’s denials that political ideology influenced Twitter to determine “appropriate behavior” on the platform, however, fell on deaf ears.

SM wars in Bharat came to a head in 2014 with the election of Narendra Mod whose global image remains that of a hardcore Hindu nationalist. The Left-Right gulf on media has been widening since. Efforts to browbeat and black out Rightist opinions are being pursued with greater vigour. Only that Facebook’s methods are slower and subtler, but in spirit no different from its micro blogging cousin. Facebook’s complicity in the Cambridge Analytica (CA) Scandal of 2018 which involved harvesting the data of millions of users to help select political campaigns has compelled it to tread with greater care. Data included people’s names, dates of birth, email addresses, city location, friends list, page likes and FB messages for those who had granted the app access to the messages. Eighty-seven million users worldwide were affected by the scandal. Facebook was forced to cough out a huge £500,000 fine, the highest possible, to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office after more than a year of litigation between the regulator and the social network.

Canadian whistleblower, Christopher Wylie, a former CA employee who unmasked Facebook, told British Parliament that Bharat’s main Opposition party, the Congress, was among the data mining company’s bedmates in the voter manipulation scandal; and that it had soiled its hands “in all kinds of projects” in Bharat where it possibly also had an office. The CA scam proved that ethics was not high on the list of Facebook’s priorities. But the real danger lies in Facebook’s prostration before Muslim-Communist interests.

The team of third-party fact checkers the platform has employed to judge what is a hate speech/post is Muslim dominated. Among them is the Modi hating #AltNews portal. The editor of a rightist news portal informed that a video showing a large crowd of Muslims offering namaz in complete violation of anti-Corona advisories was taken down because it could hurt Muslim sentiment. Not to speak of Mark Zuckerberg’s direct reference to an unnamed BJP leader’s (read Kapil Mishra) threat of vigilante action against anti-CAA protestors during this year’s Delhi riots. There was not an iota of hate in Mishra’s words.

The power of Facebook can be gauged from the fact that it has close to 300 million Bharatiya users, with its chat platform WhatsApp accounting for another 400 million. Hence, the need to seriously discuss both the benefits and pitfalls of banning it along with Twitter. Ironically, the main opposition will come from prominent Hindu handles who will hesitate to give up their sizeable following even if it serves out national interest. Such is the hunger for faux recognition and limelight. Ideally, the lead should be taken by the prime minister.

Ultimately it is the prospect of losing a huge market that can make Zuckerberg bend. The future of Facebook’s $5.7 billion partnership with Reliance Jio as well as the success of its recent entry into Bharat’s digital payments market via WhatsApp should be made conditional on the provision of a level playing field. Facebook’s current hypocritical markers of probity make the slightest mention of anything uncomplimentary about Muslims invite censure. Even something as innocuous as quoting from the Koran. If videos showing sadhus being lynched by a mob at Palghar can be uploaded on Facebook, why not Muslims in assault mode?

China, Syria, North Korea, and Iran have banned Facebook because they are not democracies. Bharat is a secular democracy where two foreign social media outlets want to drown out the voice of the majority community in the name of Islamophobia. It cannot be allowed. If the prime minister has the political will, time he showed it.


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About the Author

Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha. He writes regularly for the HinduPost as consulting editor.