A Delhi Assembly panel on Tuesday issued a final notice to Facebook executives after the social media company’s representatives did not appear before the committee regarding allegations that they did not properly apply hate speech rules and policies, contributing to the communal violence that hit the Capital in February, PTI reported.
During the proceedings, Peace and Harmony Committee Chairperson and Aam Aadmi Party MLA Raghav Chadha said non-appearance of any Facebook representative before the panel was not only in “contempt” of the Assembly but also an “insult” to the two crore people of Delhi.
Last week, the panel had summoned Facebook’s India head Ajit Mohan for questioning over the social media giant’s alleged deliberate inaction to curb hateful content in the country, which led to the February violence in which at least 53 people were killed and hundreds injured.
Chadha said a lawyer representing Facebook said the matter was under consideration of the Parliament and is therefore “untenable”. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology chaired by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor met with Facebook executives on September 2 to discuss content regulation, after questioning them for not taking down inflammatory content posted by the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders.
Chadha read out the written response of the lawyer at the hearing. “The regulation of intermediaries like Facebook fall within exclusive authority of the Union of India,” the company said, according to NDTV. “Given that the matters are under consideration by Parliament, we object to the notice and request you recall it.”
The nine-member panel, which is mostly comprised of AAP legislators along with one from the BJP, said Facebook’s notice was an “erroneous reading” and that they are well within their rights to summon the executives to answer serious charges levelled against them.
“The failure of Facebook to appear before the committee shows that it is trying to hide its role in the Delhi riots,” the Chadha said. “As per principle of natural justice, we should give a last chance to Facebook vice president and managing director to appear before the committee. Still, if he does not come, the committee will not desist from using all its powers including coercive steps.”
The AAP MLA said Facebook was not just selective in its application of community standards but “actively fanned the flames” during the North East Delhi violence. “This is an issue of Delhi, how can Facebook say that it’s not the domain of this committee,” members added. “Facebook’s statement that Parliament is seized of the matter is untenable. The state legislature functions independent of Parliament.”
Meanwhile, another member accused the company of overstepping its authority and giving an “unfortunate, vague and evasive” response.
The company is facing intense political scrutiny in India, its biggest market by users, after The Wall Street Journal on August 14 reported that Facebook’s India policy head Ankhi Das had opposed removing incendiary posts by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders. After the controversy, Facebook banned BJP MLA from Telangana, T Raja Singh, for violating its hate speech policies earlier this month. Singh had earlier called Muslims traitors and posted that Rohingya refugees in India should be shot.
A memo by a data scientist who was fired from Facebook Inc has also revealed that the social media company ignored or has been slow to deal with fake accounts that have affected elections around the world. Sophie Zhang said she worked to remove “a politically-sophisticated network of more than a thousand actors working to influence” the Delhi Assembly elections on February 8. Zhang added that she “worked through sickness” to remove this, but the social media company never publicly disclosed this network or that it had taken it down.