Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook employee who turned into a whistleblower, repeatedly volunteered to testify before the Indian parliament based on her 2021 revelations; however, she wasn’t formally requested to proceed. She has now disclosed documents that raise further concerns about Facebook’s operations in India.
Facebook is one of the biggest social media platforms in the world, with over 1.96 billion users globally. Although Facebook verbally sticks to its claim, “Keep People Safe and Protect Privacy,” the revelations suggest otherwise.
However, it still chooses to proceed with it while prioritizing profits over addressing and tackling the issues.
Zhang conveyed her concerns in 2021 regarding Facebook ‘allowing authoritarian governments to manipulate political discourse’. She raised her issues to Facebook’s then Vice-President of Integrity, Guy Rosen.
She was told that the company prioritizes fake engagement campaigns inside “the US/Western Europe and foreign adversaries such as Russia/Iran/etc. through threat intelligence.” The manipulation is executed through likes, shares, reactions, and comments by the comprised accounts, labeled as fake engagement.
After the revelations, the Standing Committee on Communications & Information Technology held a hearing with the Facebook officials.
Later, Mr. Shashi Tharoor, Chairperson of the Committee, wanted permission from Mr. Om Birla, Hon’ble Speaker of the Lok Sabha, in November 2021. However, there was no response for more than six months and the speaker said in a later interview that there was “no rule to permit foreign nationals.”
Per Rules 269 & 270 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha, parliamentary committees have the authority to demand evidence or documents and the power to send for persons, papers, and records, respectively. The provisions don’t contain any express bar on the foreign national’s part of the parliamentary committee proceedings.
New revelations by Zhang
Zhang released the documents she would have presented in Lok Sabha in early June 2022 during her testimony. It reveals that Zhang discovered five imitation networks in India linked to political parties functioning in India: two each for the Indian National Congress (INC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) & one for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
After their discovery, four were taken down, while one related to BJP MP Vinod Kumar Sonkar remained untouched. Zhang constantly reported the threat to two threat investigators and the Facebook India public policy manager.
In the case of MP Sonkar, “The fake accounts were tied directly to the personal account of the MP, indicating someone with personal access to the MP’s account was running these fake accounts.”