A Facebook representative allegedly went to a user’s house for verification, asked for his Aadhaar Card and other documents, in order to verify that a post containing political content was written by him, according to a IANS report quoting an anonymous Facebook user from New Delhi. Its worth noting that there is no clarity on whether the post
Facebook has denied carrying out the physical verification, and said in a statement: “Facebook does not conduct any form of physical verification in India, except as part of the authorizations process for advertisers who plan to run ads related to politics in India.” The New Delhi user reportedly said that Facebook’s action violated his privacy, and questioned if it was carried out at the behest of the government. Its worth noting that there is no clarity on whether the alleged verification was for a post or for advertisement or political advertisement. Its also unclear whether the alleged person (who came for verification) was a bonafide Facebook representative or just somebody posing as one. Also, it isn’t clear whether the user was informed before the alleged Facebook representative landed at their door. The IANS report is scant on detail.
We have written to Facebook on details about their verification process and willl update this when we hear from them. Facebook’s blog post on ads transparency does mention that advertisers can kick off the verification process by submitting proof of identity and location online.
Facebook along with other social media platforms including Twitter and Google has agreed to a voluntary code of ethics to abide by during the elections starting April 11. The code requires Facebook and the other platforms to act within 3 hours for violations of the 48-hour silent period; precertify all political advertisers; and have a point-of-contact for acting upon legal requests from the ECI. Platforms have also developed a notification mechanism so the ECI can legally notify them of potential violations of Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act.
If Facebook actually verified the user for posting political content, its worth noting:
1. Can Facebook even do this?: Facebook is not authorized to land at a user’s house and ask for documents, regardless of the content a user has posted, or whether the post is political. There is no law which allows Facebook to do so, the IT Act 2000 doesn’t allow for such physical verification. Only authorized officials like the police can conduct such a verification, as is regularly carried out for passport verification.
2. A secondary question is why was this particular user singled out for verification? Did the alleged post contain extreme content or violate Facebook guidelines? If this user wasn’t singled out, then is Facebook going to do this on scale? How will it manage to do it? Further, even an post containing extreme political content wouldn’t justify physical verification; all Facebook can do in such a situation is remove the content for violating Facebook’s guidelines.
3. If it happened, its creepy: If Facebook actually carried out the alleged verification, landing at the user’s house, its downright creepy, and violates user privacy.