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Delhi Assembly panel grills Facebook over Feb 2020 riots, it ‘exercises right not to respond’

The panel said it was 'worrying' that Facebook had no India-specific definition of what it categorises as hate speech.

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New Delhi: The Delhi Legislative Assembly’s Peace and Harmony Committee Thursday questioned Facebook India officials in connection with the February 2020 riots in north-east Delhi, voicing its “worry” about hate speech on the platform. But the social media giant chose not to respond to many questions.

During the proceedings that were live-streamed on YouTube, committee chair and Aam Aadmi Party leader Raghav Chadha said it was worrying that Facebook (which recently renamed itself Meta) had no India-specific definition of what it categorises as hate speech.

But Facebook public policy director Shivnath Thukral responded to several questions by saying he would be exercising his right to not comment, or that the company would later furnish requested information, provided the information requested by the committee can be shared under applicable laws.

The committee proceedings referred to the company as Facebook for convenience and ease of recognition.

What the panel said

The panel asked the social media giant how many members from religious minorities are employed by it in India, and in its public policy team.

To this, Thukral replied that India’s laws do not allow differentiation based on religion, and as a company that respects the law, it will not do so either.

Chadha requested Thukral to share at a later date the composition of Facebook’s India-related public policy team based on the religion of each team member, list of board of directors for Facebook India, if any of these board members have expertise in working on “social cohesion”, and the ownership pattern of Facebook India.

Thukral said he will be able to submit the information based on applicable laws and valid legal orders.

On being asked for records of Facebook posts the company has taken down that violate community standards, Thukral said the matter pertains to user data and may fall under the realm of the Government of India’s IT Act and hence “I would exercise my right not to respond” to the specific query.

The panel further asked whether Facebook has an India-specific definition for hate speech.

Thukral said Facebook has community standards that have a definition for hate speech and the community standards are globally applicable, including for India. “I leave it to your judgement whether it takes care of the Indian context or not,” he said.

“We pick up signals, we look at what is happening on ground, and we believe the way our platform is structured, the community standards are applicable globally and our definition of hate speech is quite comprehensive… Anything beyond that let me exercise my right of not saying anything further,” Thukral added.

Chadha responded, “It is worrying, Mr Thukral, it is worrying, that there is no static definition”.

When the panel asked Facebook if it took prompt action on problematic content in February 2020 when the riots broke out, Thukral said he did not want to respond to the query as it pertained to law and order of the city.

“You shouldn’t stonewall or claim your right to not answer these questions, simply because we are not prosecuting anyone,” Chadha said.

“By stonewalling my questions, or by reserving your right to reply, you are frustrating the objective of this committee,” Chadha said when Thukral did not respond to a question asking for an instance where Facebook took action on potentially problematic posts during the Delhi riots and in the months that followed.

(Edited by Neha Mahajan)

Also read: How Facebook led a new India user to gore, fake news in just 21 days


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