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Facebook India snubs AAP government, ignores summons to appear before assembly panel

Facebook India says it has already appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee and that its regulation falls 'within exclusive authority of the Union of India'.

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New Delhi: Delivering a snub to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government, Facebook India skipped the Delhi assembly’s hearing Tuesday, saying it has already appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee and that it is the “exclusive authority of the Union of India” to regulate it.

“The regulation of intermediaries like Facebook falls within exclusive authority of the Union of India and in exercise of this power to regulate ‘communications’, Parliament has enacted the Information Technology Act 2000,” Facebook’s Trust and Safety Director, Vikram Langeh, wrote in a reply to the committee’s summons.

Facebook also questioned the jurisdiction of the Delhi government in probing the Delhi riots, since law and order in the national capital is governed by the central government.

“The subject of “law and order” in the National Capital Territory of Delhi also falls within the exclusive domain of the Union of India,” the letter, a copy of which is with ThePrint, further states.

The Delhi Assembly’s ‘Peace and Harmony’ committee had issued a notice to Facebook India’s vice president and managing director Ajit Mohan last week, asking him to appear before it on 15 September in connection with complaints about the social media giant’s alleged deliberate inaction to curb hateful content in the country.

The notice was issued after the committee said that prima facie, it has found that Facebook was allegedly complicit in aggravating the February riots in north-east Delhi that left 53 dead and at least 400 injured.

Facebook, however, was a no-show at the committee’s hearing, and instead sent a letter objecting to the committee’s summons.

“Given that the issues raised by the notice involve subject matter within the exclusive domain of the Union of India, and that the matters are under active consideration by Parliament, we respectfully object to the notice and request that you recall it,” the letter says.

Facebook also said that it has already given its testimony on the matter in front of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information and Technology. Mohan deposed before the parliamentary panel, headed by the Congress’ Shashi Tharoor, on 2 September.

Non-appearance insult to people of Delhi: AAP

AAP MLA Raghav Chadha, who is the committee’s chairman, said the non-appearance of any Facebook representative before the panel was not only “contempt” of the Assembly, but also an “insult” to the 2 crore people of Delhi.

“The failure of Facebook to appear before the committee shows that it is trying to hide its role in the Delhi riots,” Chaddha said, after reading out the letter at the hearing.

Calling Facebook’s assertion ‘untenable’ and ‘erroneous’, Chaddha said the letter “broadly suggested that since IT and law and order were under the union government, the Delhi assembly should not get into it”.

After consulting other members of the committee, Chadha said they have decided to issue a final notice to Facebook.

“As per principle of natural justice, we should give a last chance to Facebook vice president and managing director to appear before the committee. Still, if he does not come, the committee will not desist from using all its powers including coercive steps,” he said.

The hearing by the assembly panel follows a Wall Street Journal report that claimed that one of Facebook’s senior India policy executives intervened in internal communication to stop a permanent ban on a BJP lawmaker from Telangana after he allegedly shared communally-charged posts.

Last month, Facebook had said its social media platform prohibits hate speech and content that incites violence, and these policies were enforced globally without regard to political affiliation.

In the letter, Facebook said it has “removed 22.5 million pieces of hate speech content in the second quarter of 2020” — a sharp contrast to the ‘1.6 million pieces of hate speech removed in the last quarter of 2017”.

Also read:Facebook returns to its roots, to launch ‘Facebook Campus’ just for students

With inputs from PTI.

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