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Facebook India executives asked to testify amid hate speech revelations by whistleblower

The Delhi Committee’s summons comes after Facebook reportedly failed to check hate speech ahead of riots in the city.

Facebook India is once again under the scanner for the 2020 Delhi riots following recent whistleblower revelations about the social media giant’s hate speech moderation in the country. According to a report by Business Standard, the Delhi Committee on Peace and Harmony has asked Facebook to send a list of executives (with their designation) who will testify before it on November 2, threatening contempt proceedings in case of non-compliance.

MediaNama has confirmed the same with committee Chairman Raghav Chaddha’s office. They also said that there were no plans to hear testimonies from Facebook whistleblowers Frances Haugen and Sophie Zhang yet. Earlier, the committee had heard testimony* from a former Facebook employee-turned whistleblower Mark Luckie.

In September 2020, Facebook India CEO Ajit Mohan had moved the Supreme Court against the Delhi assembly’s summons, challenging its validity but the Court upheld the committee’s summons in July 2021. Facebook became a party to the investigations after a Wall Street Journal report last year revealed that the platform did not take action against hate speech posted on it by BJP leaders. So far, Facebook India has received three summons from the committee.

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What’s new this time?

Former Facebook employee-turned whistleblower Frances Haugen recently revealed that Facebook underinvests on safety and integrity in non-English speaking countries.

  • Inaction on anti-muslim content: Facebook researchers identified two Hindu nationalist groups, the Bajrang Dal and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), that spread “inflammatory anti-Muslim content” on the platform, according to the Wall Street Journal. Notably, Mohan had told the parliamentary standing committee on IT last year that the company has no reason to act against or take down content from Bajrang Dal.
  • How much Facebook engaged with hate speech: Only 3-5% of hate speech and six-tenths of 1% of V & I [violence and incitement] is actioned against by the platform, Haugen revealed, citing internal research at Facebook.

BJP leaders off the hook: In August last year, reports revealed that Facebook refused to take down hateful content by ruling BJP leaders in order to avoid damage to its business prospects in the country. Apart from the posts by T. Raja Singh, a BJP MLA from Telangana, Facebook also did not remove a hateful post by Shiladitya Dev, a BJP MLA from Assam, for nearly a year, TIME reported. Dev had shared a news report about a girl allegedly being drugged and raped by a Muslim man. He said this was how Bangladeshi Muslims target the “native people.” Ankhi Das, Facebook’s public policy head at the time, had overtly shown bias towards the BJP as reported by WSJ.

Why SC refused to quash Delhi committee’s summons to Facebook

In July 2021, the Supreme Court rejected the plea filed by Mohan, saying that given the complexity of communal tensions, it cannot be said that the government of the national capital territory (NCT) cannot look into the matters that led to the riots. Although, the Court also pointed out that the Delhi assembly committee cannot recommend action against individuals for whom incriminating evidence is found.

In an interview with MediaNama after the judgement, Adv. Shadan Farasat, who was part of the legal team for the Delhi government in the case, said that the judgement acknowledged the accountability of social media as well as its negative influences.

If you look at even the judgement, they talk about how your algorithms are framed a certain way, to you know catch more eyeballs and therefore also divisive content can catch more eyeballs, etc. In some ways the potential including the negative potential of big social media is out in this judgement and this has not happened before — Advocate Shadan Farasat on the SC verdict

Related: Delhi Committee can’t hold hearings on central subjects, Facebook’s Ajit Mohan tells Supreme Court

Scrutiny faced by Facebook India

From the standing committee on IT: The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology summoned Facebook representatives for a hearing on September 2, last year where the allegations of bias were first reported.

From Opposition parties: Last year, after the WSJ’s reports, the Congress party wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, asking for the company to launch an investigation into its Indian arm’s activities. Various opposition parties also demanded an investigation into Facebook’s activities in India.

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*Disclosure: Nikhil Pahwa, the founding editor of MediaNama had testified before the Delhi Committee on Peace and Harmony. As a result, he was not involved in the process of reporting or editing this article. 

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Written By

I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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