Social media firms need to appear before Indian Parliament, says Ravi Shankar Prasad

Ravi Shankar Prasad (File/IE)

Electronics and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Monday social media companies should appear before the Parliament if they are called, and any reluctance on their part will not be appreciated. The minister reiterated that no interference from foreign entities in elections will be tolerated.

“The social media companies willingly appear before American Congress, they also need to appear before Indian Parliament. I am very clear about it. I value my democracy, I value my parliamentary institutions and if there is any reluctance by these companies to appear before parliamentary processes, that will not be appreciated,” Prasad said at the Express Group’s Idea Exchange programme.

A parliamentary panel on information technology, headed by BJP MP Anurag Thakur, had asked social media companies to ensure that elections are not undermined and influenced by them.

Asked if Twitter is anti-Right wing and if it might go against the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in elections and if that is worrying for the party, the minister said “not the least”. He, however, refrained to comment further as the matter is before a parliamentary committee.

Prasad said the government respects the freedom of press and sees the social media also in that context. “I am very much appreciative of social media because it has given a new tool of empowerment to many Indians to ask questions, to appreciate and also pull up. This is what a robust democracy is about. But I have told them that constitutional norms available to ordinary freedom under Article 19 also need to be kept in mind.” “If social media platform is used to promote radicalisation, terrorism, massacre mayhem, action will be taken. If you abuse data of Indians for collateral purposes, that will not be tolerated. The Election Commission is now on the job”.

Regarding WhatsApp, the minister said it is interacting with the panel. “In the wake of lynchings, we asked them to stop recirculation of messages and now they have limited to 5 messages which can be forwarded at a time. They have agreed to set up an office in India and have a grievance officer. There are other issues and we keep working it out,” Prasad said.