A Delhi Assembly panel on Saturday issued a notice to Facebook India’s Vice President and Managing Director Ajit Mohan, summoning him before it on September 15 in connection with allegations that the social media giant chose to ignore hate speech by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders on its platform, PTI reported.
“Summon was issued on the basis of scathing depositions of the key witnesses as well as incriminating material submitted by them on record,” an official statement said.
The notice to Mohan came after Facebook’s alleged inaction on hate speech was exposed by a report published in The Wall Street Journal on August 14. The report also showed that Facebook India’s head of public policy, Ankhi Das, allegedly “opposed applying hate-speech rules” to at least four individuals and groups linked with the Bharatiya Janata Party even though they were “flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence”.
On August 25, the Delhi Assembly panel led by Aam Aadmi Party MLA Raghav Chadha had initiated proceedings in the matter and decided to summon Facebook officials for interrogation. It had also summoned journalist and author Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and digital rights activist Nikhil Pahwa, whose statements were taken as “expert witnesses”. They had claimed that there was evidence against Facebook to prove the alleged collusion between the social media giant and the BJP, adding that an inquiry was needed to ascertain the social media platform’s role in instigating communal violence.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, led by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, was also conducting an inquiry into the allegations made in The Wall Street Journal report. On September 2, it had summoned Facebook representatives to hear their views “on the subject ‘Safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space”.
Facebook has repeatedly denied the allegations. “We prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation,” a Facebook spokesperson had said. “While we know there is more to do, we are making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy.”
On September 3, the social media again refuted the allegations and said it was a “non-partisan platform” that is opposed to any form of hate and bigotry. The comments came after the Congress wrote a letter last month to the company about its alleged nexus with the BJP and over concerns about its hate speech policy.
Facebook’s Neil Potts had assured the Congress that it was actively taking down incendiary posts. “We have removed 22.5 million [2.25 crore] pieces of hate speech content from April to June in 2020, up from 1.6 million pieces [16 lakh] of hate speech in the last quarter of 2017,” the official said. “We know there is much more to do and we will continue to invest our efforts to combat hate speech on out services.”
On September 4, after severe criticism, Facebook banned BJP MLA T Raja Singh for violating its hate speech policies. Singh had called Muslims traitors and also wrote that Rohingya refugees in India should be shot.
Facebook’s policies on hate speech and misinformation have repeatedly faced flak and many of its employees have protested against them, demanding that company’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, who holds majority of the share in the company, change his stance.
On Tuesday, a Facebook employee, working as a software engineer, quit saying that he no longer wanted to work for an organisation that was “profiting off hate”. “Violent hate groups and far-right militias are out there, and they’re using Facebook to recruit and radicalise people who will go on to commit violent hate crimes.” Ashok Chandwaney had said. “So where’s the metric about this?”
Facebook has also faced criticism for not fact-checking political ads. It had cited freedom of expression as the reason for letting politicians like the United States President Trump post false information about voting. However, the company had on September 3 announced several steps to reduce “the risks of post-election confusion”, including not accepting new political advertisements a week before the November 3 presidential polls in the United States.