Facebook Hate Speech Row: Delhi Assembly Panel Begins Proceedings, To Summon Officials

Two expert witnesses invited by the committee said Facebook was not as content-neutral as it claimed to be, with “circumstantial evidence” pointing to “collusion" between the social media giant and the BJP government.

New Delhi: The Delhi assembly’s committee on peace and harmony began proceedings against Facebook on Tuesday by recommending the summoning officials of the social media company to explain allegations of biased conduct in taking action against politically charged hate posts, especially during elections and riots.

The committee held a three-hour-long meeting on Tuesday, which was telecast live, during which they examined two expert witnesses, journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and digital rights activist Nikhil Pahwa.

At the end of the first day of examination of the two witnesses, the committee’s chairperson Raghav Chadha noted that both the witnesses recommended that Facebook officials must be summoned to present their side.

“This committee which was formed after the Delhi riots has received many complaints which said that Facebook did not remove hurtful content from its platform. This committee will call upon people from Facebook,” said Raghav Chadha, chairperson of the committee, according to Mint newspaper.

Also Read: Afraid of Angering BJP, Facebook Ignored Hate Speech Rules for Party’s Anti-Muslim Posts: Report

According to the Indian Express, the two expert witnesses had stated that Facebook was not as content-neutral as it claimed to be, with “circumstantial evidence” pointing to “collusion between Facebook and the present BJP government”.

A statement issued by the Delhi government added that the committee decided “the Facebook officials concerned should be summoned to render explanation with regards to the allegations as well as the depositions”.

“The committee believes that this is a direct assault on Indian democracy as this alleged nexus might compromise on free and fair elections in the country. Hence, the committee will soon issue notices to top officials of Facebook with a view to examine them on record,” said the statement.

AAP leader Raghav Chadha displays a victory sign after his win in the Delhi assembly polls in New Delhi, February 11, 2020. Photo: PTI/Ravi Choudhary

The committee had previously explained it has started these proceedings after the Wall Street Journal published a report on August 14 that indicated that officials were turning a blind eye to hate posts by pro-government politicos.

The WSJ report claimed that Facebook’s top public policy head in India, Ankhi Das had intervened to stop deletion of hate speech by individuals linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party, as it would have impacted the firm’s business interests.

Earlier, Chadha said that the committee would probe if “there is any role or complicity of Facebook officials in Delhi Riots” which resulted in the deaths of 53 people in February this year.

Last week, Facebook India’s managing director, Ajit Mohan wrote in an official blog post that the company had an “impartial approach” towards hate speech and enforces them globally without regard to political position or party affiliation.

“We have removed and will continue to remove content posted by public figures in India when it violates our Community Standards,” Mohan said.

On accusations of bias, he said that Facebook takes the allegation “incredibly seriously, and want to make it clear that we denounce hate and bigotry in any form”. “We’ve made progress in tackling hate speech on our platform, but we need to do more,” he wrote.

Das apologises for offensive post

Meanwhile, a Buzzfeed News report said that Das has apologised to Muslims who work for the company for sharing a post on her Facebook page in which she called India’s Muslims a “degenerate community” for whom “nothing except purity of religion and implementation of Shariah matter.”

“I value all perspectives I have heard over the past days about how the post was received and as a result I have deleted the post. I genuinely regret any hurt it may have caused, including to my Muslim colleagues in the company,” she wrote, according to the report.

Some Muslim Facebook employees pushed back, calling for Facebook to do better.

“As a company, we now need to do an honest reflection of hate speech and Islamophobia against Muslims on our platform. In a market where public figures like T. Raja Singh engage in blatant hate speech, as well as incites [sic] violence, against the Muslim community, we need to do more to protect the vulnerable,” one comment said, according to Buzzfeed.

Raja Singh is purportedly one of the BJP leaders whose “anti-Muslim posts” were not taken down by Facebook. After WSJ‘s enquiries, some posts of the MLA from Telangana were taken down. Singh, however, has claimed that he does not operate a Facebook account.