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Rep. Ro Khanna, Grandson of Activist Jailed with Gandhi Movement, Decries Facebook’s Role in India

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A consortium of 17 news outlets is examining the “Facebook Papers,” a trove of internal documents turned over to federal regulators by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen that sheds new light on the social media giant’s role in spreading misinformation and polarizing content. The documents reveal most of Facebook’s efforts to combat online hate are focused on the United States, even though 90% of users are outside the country. A test account set up by Facebook managers to represent an average young adult user in India quickly became flooded with Hindu nationalist propaganda, anti-Muslim hate speech and incitements to violence. This is “deeply concerning,” says Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley, and notes his grandfather was active in Gandhi’s independence movement and spent several years in jail for promoting human rights. Khanna says Facebook needs to take remedial action and acknowledge what’s wrong. “You need legal remedies.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Congressmember Khanna, you represent Silicon Valley, and I want to ask you about the social media giant Facebook. A consortium of 17 news outlets is examining the so-called Facebook Papers, a trove of internal documents turned over to federal regulators by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen that are shedding new light on the role of Facebook in spreading misinformation and polarizing content. The documents reveal most of Facebook’s efforts to combat online hate are focused on the United States. We’re talking about the United States audience is like 9%, and something like 90% of the resources are spent on the U.S., when 90% of their audience is outside of the United States. As we reported in headlines, one test account set up by Facebook managers to represent an average young adult user in India quickly became flooded with anti-Muslim hate speech, Hindu nationalist propaganda, incitements to violence. A Facebook staffers said, “I’ve seen more images of dead people in the past 3 weeks than I’ve seen in my entire life total.”

You not only represent Silicon Valley; you are an Indian American. Can you talk about the significance of this, and what you’re demanding of your hometown multinational corporation?

REP. RO KHANNA: Amy, I appreciated the view. I’m not just an Indian American, but, as you may remember, my grandfather spent four years in jail as part of Gandhi’s independence movement. So I am an Indian American who believes that pluralism is key to democracies and key to India’s best traditions.

It’s deeply concerning, and someone should look at the report that Muslim Advocates put out, “Complicit,” that talks about how some of the social media was captured in places like India, in places like Myanmar, to have incitement of violence against minorities, where people from the government actually captured the regulatory processes at these social media companies.

Obviously, Facebook needs to take remedial action and acknowledge what was wrong, but I think that you need, actually, legal remedies. I have proposed that the Alien Torts Act should be extended to allow people outside the United States to sue in the United States courts. When there is speech that incites violence and mass human rights violations, there should be some recourse, because right now their only recourse is to the company itself, and the company itself in these overseas markets is often captured by bad interests. So, whether it’s —

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

REP. RO KHANNA: — in the United States courts, yeah, or international courts — I’m sorry for going too long; I just feel very passionate about this issue — there needs to be accountability and legal reform.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us. Congressmember Ro Khanna represents Silicon Valley in California.

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