Facebook was a no-show at the hearing organised by the Delhi Legislative Assembly’s Committee on Peace and Harmony on September 15, 2020. This prompted the Committee to warn the social media giant that legal action would be taken against Facebook India, if it failed to answer the Committee’s summons a second time.
The hearing had been organised to address Facebook’s alleged role in spreading communal violence during February 2020 riots that raged through North East Delhi.
On September 14, the Committee received a letter from Facebook India stating that it would not be answering the summons because it considered the subject matter to be “within the exclusive domain of the Union of India.”
According to Chairperson Raghav Chadha, the letter was in contempt of the Delhi Legislative Assembly as well as of the people of Delhi. He noted that many witnesses on previous proceedings had talked about Facebook’s selective action in the implementation of its community standards. Many experts have talked about Facebook’s role in the Delhi riots. Accordingly, the Committee had planned to talk to Facebook India’s Vice-President and Managing Director Ajit Mohan during Tuesday’s proceeding.
However, a day before the proceeding, Facebook’s Trust and Safety Director, Vikram Langeh, asked the Legislative Assembly’s body to recall its notice. He said that the company had already talked to the Centre’s Standing Committee on Information and Technology about such issues during its enquiry on safeguarding citizens’ rights.
“As you are well aware, the regulations of intermediaries like Facebook falls within the exclusive authority of the Union of India and in exercise of this power to regulate communication the Parliament has enacted the Information Technology Act 2000. Further the subject of law and order in the national capital territory of Delhi also falls within the exclusive domain of the Union of India. Given that the issues raised by the notice involves subject matter within the exclusive domain of the Union of India and that the matters are under active consideration by the Parliament, we respectfully object to the notice and request you to recall it,” said Facebook in its response via a letter.
Additionally, the letter said that Facebook had removed 22.5 million pieces of hate speech content in the second quarter of 2020 most of which had not been reported till then.
However, Chadha said that the company’s refusal to appear before the Committee is an attempt to conceal facts in relation to Facebook’s role in the Delhi riots. He said the letter suggested that the company was hiding something, and that the allegation it faced may not be completely baseless.
“Wonder what kind of protection Facebook gets in the Centre’s proceedings that it prefers to be summoned by them and not by us,” Chadha wondered aloud.
He also went on to raise two concerns about the Director’s letter. Firstly, he clarified that the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCT) Act 1991, gave special privileges and powers to the Delhi Assembly that the company had explicitly breached and disregarded. Secondly, he said that the Centre’s proceedings looked into citizens’ rights and misuse of social online news media platforms. Thus, the topic discussed then was completely different from the concerns of the Committee on Peace and Harmony that sought to investigate the social media company’s alleged role in the communal violence that took place in North East Delhi earlier this year.
Chadha also expressed surprise that Facebook had refused to attend a Committee proceeding that was completely livestreamed on social media and therefore allowed complete transparency.
Even so, under principles of natural justice, the Committee gave the company a final chance to appear before them, failing which an investigation would be conducted against the company in accordance with the law.
The proceedings of the Committee on September 15, 2020 may be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/