Delhi Violence: Peace and Harmony Committee serves notice to Facebook

The Delhi Legislative Assembly’s committee has asked a Facebook representative to present themselves before it on Nov 2

Delhi VoilenceImage

Things are not going Facebook’s way. Ever since the shocking revelations made by a whistleblower a few weeks ago, Facebook’s role in allowing hate to spread unchecked on its platform and even spill onto the streets has been getting increased scrutiny. So much so, that the Peace and Harmony Committee of the Delhi Legislative Assembly has asked it to send a representative to appear before the Committee on November 2.

On October 27, the Committee issued notice to Facebook India Online Services Pvt. Ltd. The Indian Express quoted an official government communique as saying, “In continuation of previous proceedings, the Delhi Legislative Assembly’s Committee on Peace and Harmony has decided to call upon representatives of Facebook India to depose its view on the important role of social media in curbing the spread of false, provocative and malicious messages which can fan violence and disharmony.” It further said, “So far, the committee has examined extremely crucial witnesses, including senior journalists, fact checkers, digital rights activists and Facebook employees. Proceedings shall be live-streamed to maintain the utmost transparency in the functioning of the committee.”

So far journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Prabir Purkayastha and fact-checking portal Atl News’s founder Pratik Sinha have testified before the Committee.

It remains to be seen though if Facebook would send a representative given how it has, in the past, used every trick in the book to avoid appearing before the Committee.

A brief history of Facebook vis-à-vis Peace and Harmony

In March 2020, the Delhi Legislative Assembly formed the Committee of Peace and Harmony comprising 9 members in response to the riots that took place in north east Delhi in February. The Committee has been examining the role of Facebook in helping the instigation of the riots and has issued summons to the company twice.

On September 14, 2020, 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.” Ajit Mohan, the Vice President of Facebook India moved the Supreme Court against the notice issued by the Delhi Legislative Assembly’s Committee of Peace and Harmony. Mohan’s petition stated that the Committee cannot summon him as the same issue is being considered by a Parliamentary panel as well.

On July 8, 2021, the Supreme Court, in a judgement in connection with the case Ajit Mohan & Ors. V. Legislative Assembly, NCT of Delhi ruled that the Committee had the power to summon both, members and non-members, including representatives of Facebook. The October 27 notice has been issued in furtherance of this judgment.

Facebook turns a blind eye to complaints against Hate Speech

A recent revelation by a whistleblower showed how Facebook was unable to control the spread of hate speech on its platform. While the company tried to dodge the bullet by claiming it did not have factchecker and people to examine and block hate content in all languages, truth it, that the platform has refused to check hate, even when it is pointed out to it.

SabrangIndia’s sister organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has sent complaints on two occasions to Facebook concerning hateful and violence-inciting speech made by Ragni Tiwari, a right-wing social media influencer who has frequently encouraged acts of violence. CJP’s December 24, 2020 complaint was about her video whereby she appealed to the masses to prepare themselves for December 17 to recreate Jafrabad (read a reference to the February 2020, Delhi Violence) if the farmers don’t stop protesting and leave Delhi. She openly issued a fresh warning to the Central and Delhi Government that if the protests are not put to an end by December 16, she will take to the streets and get all roads cleared and history will repeat itself. By history, she meant the targeted Delhi Pogrom where she brazenly called for the slaughter of the Muslim community and the violence that followed led to deaths of more than 50 people. 

Another complaint was sent on March 3, 2020 for the comments she made in a Facebook live broadcast on February 23, 2020, amidst the Delhi violence. In the video she is seen using derogatory language including cuss-words against the Delhi police for their alleged inaction against stone-pelters. In the 23-minute-long video she said, “Yes, for my country and religion, I cleaned out Jafrabad, and I don’t regret it. If I stay alive, then I vow that every time Shaheen Bagh and Jaffrabad [situations] are created, I will clean them out again, in my style.”

In January 2021, Facebook Inc has responded to two complaints sent by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) against hateful and inciteful speech made by Ragni Tiwari, stating that they are not in a position to take any action against Tiwari. Instead, Facebook suggested that CJP contact the party directly to get a resolution on the issue.


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