Kolkata: Senior journalist and author, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is in Kolkata to release the Bangla version of his co-authored book Real Face of Facebook in India. The timing of the launch of the book becomes significant as Bengal’s important election is round the corner. The 65- year-old journalist is facing several cases from the corporate world for his investigative work, talked at length about his book, assault on journalists during the present regime, and how suppression of freedom of expression is ruining the image of India. Excerpts from the interview:
eNewsroom: You wrote a book on Facebook, can you elucidate this social media giant’s use and misuse during elections in India?
Paranjoy: First of all, when you talk about Facebook, it is not just Facebook but also WhatsApp and Instagram too. Today, not just in India, but also in other parts of the world, Facebook and WhatsApp are being misused. They are being used to spread misinformation, disinformation, and hateful information. The agenda is simple – increase enmity and violence between two communities. And before elections, it aims to simply influence people’s opinions. Those who have the money can hire trolls. They are paid to spread wrong information.
We are seeing that in the last few years, Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages behind every riot in India.
We have seen a senior Facebook officer Ankhi Das (Facebook India policy head) resigning. She had refused to put down the hateful messages of T Raja Singh (MLA from Telangana), Kapil Mishra (ex-MLA), and Anant Kumar Hegde (former Union Minister). She had even said that it is against “our business”. It is not me, who is saying, but what the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Time, BuzzFeed is writing on Facebook.
In America and Austria, Members of Parliament and intellectuals are saying, Facebook has become so powerful that it should be brought under control. In America, the discussion is even going on that it (FB, WA, Insta) should be segregated. Here in India, we are seeing it being misused during the election.
I also find that Facebook and WhatsApp are being misused by right-wing groups. And the same is happening globally, not just in West Bengal or India.
Watch Paranjoy Guha Thakurta’s live interview:
eNewsroom: What is the solution? How to tackle the situation?
There is no easy solution to this. As Jawahar Sircar suggested today – ‘occupy Facebook, occupy WhatsApp’ can be one of the solutions. At the same time, we need to make the common man aware of social media being a two-edged sword, it can help you and harm you too. If you want to fight against those who are harming you, raising awareness is a must. If people believe whatever comes to WhatsApp, then the fight will get more difficult. As Ravish Kumar said, people are getting educated through WhatsApp University.
Unfortunately, crores of youth believe in whatever is forwarded to their WhatsApp inbox.
eNewsroom: Assault on journalists has been on the rise in India, especially during farmers’ protests.
As we are talking, right now, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raid is on at the house of Prabir Purkayustha (NewsClick’s director). I think the government is misusing the agencies. Why do people who speak against PM Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Bhagwat, BJP, and RSS are being called anti-national? I love my country. I am a proud Indian.
Why do senior journalists like Mrinal Pande, Zafar Agha, Rajdeep (Sardesai), Vinod K Jose have to face sedition charges? And cases registered from one state to another. Kerala journalist (Kappan Siddiqui) has been slapped with sedition charges for reporting about the Hathras rape case. Why Mandeep (Punia) has to face FIR for reporting. How you are behaving against journalists, what it means. Do you believe in every citizen’s basic rights or not?
I do not say that you defame somebody or say something which triggers a riot. But I have a question to all those in power today, they should answer – do they believe in freedom of expression or not?
eNewsroom: Do you think this is ruining India’s global image?
Paranjoy: Today India’s reputation before is not good. Rihanna (pop singer) tweets and look, what the Indian government does! External Affairs ministry issues statement. Twitter has said, “we are not ready to obey your instruction”. I think it is foolish. The image of India, as the world’s largest democracy, is not getting bright, on the contrary, the BJP government and its supporters are ruining it.