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Conflict of interest? Advocacy group funded by Twitter, Facebook, Google and western governments criticises new Indian social media regulations

A quick look at the institutions funding the advocacy group makes it clear that its opposition to the regulations is motivated and it is not a neutral spectator as it pretends to be.

Access Now, a western advocacy group, has spoken out against the social media regulations ushered in by the Indian Government on Thursday. The advocacy groups holds significant sway in the world of activism and therefore, its statement against the regulations requires some attention.

The group said in a statement, “Access Now is extremely concerned by the alarming new powers the Indian government has granted itself, announcing today, February 25, its increased control over content on social media platforms. It has finalised an amended set of rules — for immediate publication and implementation — to change how it can regulate internet intermediaries such as social media platforms, and online media sites.”

Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific Policy Director at Access Now, said, “The mandates in the new rules would result in encouraging internet platforms to over-censor content, require dangerous unproven AI-based content regulation tools, retain vast amounts of user data for handing over to the government, and undermine end-to-end encryption crucial for cybersecurity and individual privacy.”

There is a conflict of interest, however. A quick look at the institutions funding the advocacy group makes it clear that its opposition to the regulations is motivated and it is not a neutral spectator as it pretends to be.

Until June 2020, the group had received hundreds and thousands of dollars in funding from western government institutions. Funders included the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (SFDFA), UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). Access Now received over $2 million from SIDA, around $61,000 from FCO and around $40,000 from the SFDFA.

Access Now funders 2020

The previous year, the advocacy group received funds from Twitter and Facebook in addition to funds from government agencies. In fact, the majority of its funds came from government agencies. 56.3% to be precise.

Not a comprehensive list of funders

The story remains the same for 2018. 49.8% of its funds, almost half of it, came from government agencies. Twitter, Google and Microsoft were other prominent donors.

Almost half of Access Now funds in 2018 came from government agencies

In 2017, government agencies contributed 60% of Access Now funds. SIDA remained the highest remained the highest donor with nearly $3 million in funds. George Soros’ Open Society Foundations donated to them as well and in significant measure.

Contribution of government agencies was 60% in 2017

The story follows the same pattern in 2016. More than half of its funds came from government agencies. The Dutch Ministry has funded them as well apart from the Oak Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Access Now funds 2016

Thus, Access Now is majorly funded by the government of Sweden, from which it derives the overwhelming majority of its funds from government agencies. Other than that, it receives funds from the governments of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the Switzerland.

The new regulations will most directly impact Twitter, Facebook and Google and are designed to make them accountable, all of which are prominent donors of Access Now. Therefore, quite clearly, when the advocacy group criticizes the regulations, it will be extremely difficult to argue that they are acting in good faith.

The advocacy group says, “Access Now does not accept funding that compromises its organizational independence, including funding relationships that may influence its priorities, policy positions, advocacy efforts, regions of focus, or direct action work.” But that is difficult to digest indeed.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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