The Peace and Harmony Committee of the Delhi Legislative Assembly on Monday will resume hearing witnesses against Facebook while looking into complaints about the social networking site’s alleged “deliberate and intentional inaction to contain hateful content” in India, PTI reported. The inquiry relates to the February violence in North East Delhi.
The panel has called NewsClick editor Prabir Purkayastha and co-founder of Alt News Pratik Sinha for examination, it said in a statement.
“The Delhi Legislative Assembly’s committee, after careful deliberations of the allegations in the complaints levelled against Facebook, has taken prompt cognisance of the issue and set its mechanism in full swing,” the panel added.
The committee had asked Facebook India’s Vice President and Managing Director Ajit Mohan to appear for questioning on September 23 – a second round of summons – over allegations that the social media giant’s laxity in applying hate speech rules and policies contributed to the communal violence that hit the Capital in February. At least 53 people were killed and scores injured in the violence that rocked North East Delhi.
Mohan had not appeared for the first round. After the panel summoned him the second time and reportedly stated that his non-appearance would be treated as breach of privilege, the Facebook executive moved the Supreme Court. On September 23, the top court ordered the Delhi Assembly panel to not take any coercive action against Mohan till October 15.
The legislative Assembly responded to Mohan’s plea, arguing that he cannot claim the right to remain silent as no coercive action was taken nor is intended to be taken merely if he appears before the Peace and Harmony Committee.
The company is facing intense political scrutiny in India, after the August 14 report in The Wall Street Journal that Facebook’s India policy head Ankhi Das had opposed removing incendiary posts by BJP leaders. A memo by a data scientist who was fired from Facebook Inc had also revealed that the social media company ignored or has been slow to deal with fake accounts that have affected elections around the world.
On September 12, the Delhi Assembly panel had summoned Mohan after Facebook’s alleged inaction on hate speech was exposed.
On September 15, the panel had warned the social media platform that not appearing before it was not only in “contempt” of the Assembly but also an “insult” to the two crore people of Delhi.
A lawyer representing Facebook had told the panel that the matter was under consideration of Parliament and was therefore “untenable”. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology chaired by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor met Facebook executives on September 2 to discuss content regulation, after questioning them for not taking down inflammatory content posted by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders.
The nine-member Delhi Assembly panel, mostly comprising AAP legislators along with one from the BJP, said they are well within their rights to summon the executives to answer serious charges levelled against them.
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 claimed. “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.”