Facebook refused to send anyone to appear before the Delhi Assembly’s Peace and Harmony Committee, which had scheduled a hearing on Tuesday afternoon. The Committee had earlier issued summons to Facebook India chief Ajit Mohan, who was called to depose on the company’s alleged role in inciting hatred and aiding violence during the Northeast Delhi riots earlier this year.

In its last hearing on September 1, the Committee had found Facebook prima facie guilty of aggravating the riots, and suggested that a supplemental chargesheet be filed against the company in ongoing cases related to the riots.

The Committee has been hearing on the allegations of political bias against Facebook to look at how non-enforcement of community standards could have played a role in the Delhi violence. Constituted in March 2020 after the riots, the Committee took up the matter after the Wall Street Journal reported last month that Facebook had refused to take down hate speech posted by leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Speaking on occasion, Committee chairman and Aam Aadmi Party MLA Raghav Chadha noted that Mohan had been issued a notice of summons on September 10. “However, with great sadness I inform you that Facebook has chosen to respond to the notice by sending a letter, which reached us on September 14 [Monday],” he said. The letter was sent by Vikram Langa, a director at Facebook India.

The letter, read out aloud by Chadha, noted that issues regarding the dissemination of hate speech were currently being considered by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, where the company has given testimony already. It also said the regulation of intermediaries such as Facebook fell under the authority of the Central government. Furthermore, the subject of law and order — related to the violence in Delhi — was also exclusive domain of the Central government. Facebook requested that the Committee recall its notice to Mohan.

Committee says Facebook’s actions in breach of Assembly’s privilege

Chadha and other members criticised Facebook for refusing to attend the hearing, and said the company was in breach of the privileges afforded to the Delhi Legislative Assembly, its committees and members.

Chadha dismissed the implication that the Committee had no powers to hear on the given matters. “Whoever gave Facebook legal advice is not well informed. Firstly, just because a Parliamentary committee is hearing something, it doesn’t mean a Delhi Assembly committee can’t hear on the same thing. After all, we are a federal polity.” Secondly, he added, the parliamentary committee wasn’t even hearing about Facebook’s role in the Delhi riots, but rather on “safeguarding citizens and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms”.

“This not just an insult and contempt against the Delhi Assembly itself, but of the two crore people of Delhi who have elected it.” said Chadha. He added that by refusing to appear in front of the Committee, Facebook was trying to conceal the truth. “The accused is telling us we like the Parliamentary committee more than we like you and we want to appear before them. I don’t know what kind of protection they are getting there,” he said.

Other members present at the event included AAP MLAs BS Joon, Jarnail Singh and Abdul Rehman. Singh said, “It is strange that a private company is telling a committee formed by a legislative body that ‘you don’t have the right to call us’. Facebook has challenged the authority of the house.” Joon called Facebook’s letter “unfortunate, vague and evasive” and said the company was “duty-bound” to explain to the Committee about the allegations made against it with relation to the Delhi riots.

Chadha said Mohan would be given one last chance to appear before it, and that if he doesn’t come, the Committee could begin legal proceedings against him. He said that the Committee would, in the form of one more letter, tell Mohan that his refusal is a breach of privilege, and could lead to a warrant against him.

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