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  • Meerelle Cruz

A Facebook Whistleblower Has Offered To Testify Before House Committee

Sophie Zhang, a former Facebook data scientist, warned in an internal document that a "politically sophisticated" endeavor was being made to sway the Delhi elections in February 2020.

Sophie Zhang, a Facebook whistleblower who spoke before the British parliament last month, is eager to testify before India's parliamentary committee on information, however, the committee will make the final choice. Members (MPs) have been provided comments by the former data scientist, who has also offered to speak before the committee, according to a private memo obtained by Hindustan Times. The committee chaired by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor will make a final judgment at a meeting on Monday, and it will all rely on if a majority of MPs allow her to testify. Tharoor and the other members of the panel did not reply to requests for comment.

Zhang is a former Facebook data scientist who warned in an internal memo that "more than a thousand" persons were involved in a "politically sophisticated" attempt to sway the February 2020 Delhi elections. According to Zhang's memo, the network was shut down, albeit the corporation did not report it. Zhang was a member of the Site Integrity team of the social media firm. Zhang was sacked from the company as a result. Zhang indicated she would be willing to testify before the Indian Parliament in a tweet last month. On October 28, she testified in front of British MPs.

Another whistleblower, Frances Haugen, made international headlines when she spoke before the US Senate on how Facebook fosters divisions, damages children, and needs to be regulated promptly. Haugen submitted documents citing Facebook research that included what they (the researchers) claimed was fear-mongering and dehumanizing content promoted by Facebook accounts purportedly run by or associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ruling Bharatiya Janata party's ideological fountainhead. Another paper mentioned the lack of language classifiers, specifically mentioning how the lack of Hindi and Bangali classifiers meant the organization handled some of the reported information incorrectly.

As new information became available, Tharoor made it clear that he wanted to hear from the whistleblowers to better grasp the Indian side of the story. However, he also stated that he would need to obtain approval from the Speaker for this; it is unknown whether or not this has already been given. There was no contact on this, according to a spokesperson for the Speaker's office. The meeting's formal agenda is to hear Facebook representatives address concerns about how they protect users, particularly women's safety. Only policy head Shivnath Thukral is set to appear, despite the committee's request for India's head Ajit Mohun to present.

On the condition of anonymity, one of the panel members said they would decide on Zhang's appearance during Monday's meeting. "Facebook representatives will be heard, followed by a committee debate on the misuse of social media/news channels," he stated. In the past, the panel's position on their jurisdiction has been split. For example, while Shashi Tharoor, the chairwoman, sought to discuss the disclosures of Pegasus spyware being used to target activists and journalists in India, BJP MPs objected. Zhang has not revealed what submissions he shared with the Indian panel.

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