Facebook representatives have been summoned by the Parliamentary Committee on Information Technology, per an agenda notice issued on Thursday. The hearing, scheduled for September 2, comes in light of allegations that Facebook refused to take down hateful content by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members, fearing harm to its commercial interests in India.
Headed by veteran Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, the Committee will hear from Facebook representatives on the subject: “Safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space”. Later in the day, the Committee will hear oral evidence on the subject from representatives of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY).
The Wall Street Journal had reported that Facebook India’s public policy team, headed by Ankhi Das, had refused to take down posts by T Raja Singh, a BJP MLA from Telangana, although they were flagged as “hate speech”. Das reportedly opposed applying hate-speech rules to posts by Singh and other other “Hindu nationalist individuals” as punishing violations by leaders from the BJP would damage Facebook’s business prospects in India.
The report suggested that Facebook might be taking into account political considerations when applying hate-speech rules to prominent Hindu nationalists in India.
The ruling BJP and opposition Congress have been involved in a political tussle, over Tharoor’s initial announcement that the Committee would convene a meeting to hear Facebook’s alleged misconduct. Congress party wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, asking for an probe into the company’s India leadership. However, BJP member Nishikanth Dubey accused Tharoor of not taking members of the Committee into confidence before making his announcement. He wrote on Twitter that only the chairman of the Committee did not have the “authority to do anything without discussion of the agenda with its member (sic)”. Subsequently, both Tharoor and Dubey gave notices of breach of privilege against each other to Speaker Om Birla. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, another BJP member, has also written to Birla to complain against Tharoor.
Thamizhachi Thangapandian, a Dravida Munnetra Kazagham MP and a member of the IT Committee, hoped that the Committee would be able to have a “healthy discussion”. Speaking to MediaNama, she said, “We have every right to question Facebook. Of course, we are an ally of Congress and will support them. But, crossing party lines, any individual with a sense of logic and reasoning should question the double standards of Facebook, which follows one set of rules in America and another in India” she added.
Committee to also hear on suspension of internet in country
On September 1, the Committee will hear from representatives of the Home Ministry and Ministry of Communications on internet shutdowns in Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir, and Delhi. Later in the day, they will hear from News Broadcasters Association, Press Council of India, Prasar Bharati and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on “Ethical Standards in Media Coverage”.