Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi Friday wrote to Home Minister Amit Shah and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad seeking an “urgent and fair investigation” into the misuse of social media platforms that “destabilise governments and undermine constitutional institution”. She urged them to formulate guidelines that hold social media companies accountable.
The Rajya Sabha MP cited a recent investigation by the Mumbai police which purportedly found that “over 80,000 fake and illegitimate social media accounts” were created to “malign the Maharashtra government and Mumbai police” during the probe into the death of an actor.
Chaturvedi’s letter came days after Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said action would be taken against social media accounts that had maligned Mumbai Police online
The minister was referring to allegations on social media that actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who was found hanging in his home on June 14, had been murdered – and that the state administration, including Cooper Hospital, where the autopsy was conducted, and Mumbai Police, were trying to falsely portray the death as suicide. The AIIMS medical board has ruled out murder in the actor’s death and termed it “death by suicide”.
Following the AIIMS report, Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh said police have been tracking the “fake accounts” that have been “defaming” the force, and have already registered two FIRs.
In her letter, Chaturvedi mentions a study on “conspiracy narrative” around the death of the actor that shows “how government authority can be destroyed, undermined, and destabilised through a malicious social media campaign on unchecked platforms”.
“The researchers at University of Michigan studied YouTube pages of mainstream television news channels, Twitter trending hashtags, and tweets from politicians, influencers, journalists, and media houses in India, and found much of the push had a distinct political edge to attack the Maharashtra government,” she wrote.
Citing the August report by the Wall Street Journal that said Facebook’s top public policy executive in India “opposed applying hate-speech rules” to at least four individuals and groups linked with the BJP, Chaturvedi said social media platforms across democracies are being investigated for their role “in rigging elections, of bias towards certain ideologies, of not considering the real-life impact of rumour mongering and fake news.”
Emphasising on the need to formulate guidelines on social media companies, Chaturvedi cited the example of the US Congress which has in the recent past called upon the head of Facebook and Twitter to explain steps taken to curb misinformation on their platforms, the role of algorithm in perpetuating such misinformation and issues pertaining to digital privacy etc.
“Why is it that the Indian Government is hesitating to ask them (heads of social media platforms) to explain their role in our nation? Certainly, a country of a billion people which is their biggest market is owed an explanation and made to realise that they cannot function as law unto themselves to maximise own revenues,” she said.
Concluding her letter, Chaturvedi said she hopes suitable steps will be taken to “ensure that no institutions of democracy are undermined at the altar of these platforms’ profit”.