Delhi state panel criticises Facebook for India chief’s no-show

FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration
FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen placed on a keyboard in this illustration taken March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

September 15, 2020

By Sankalp Phartiyal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A Delhi legislative panel on Tuesday warned Facebook Inc <FB.O> it could face contempt proceedings after its India head failed to show up at a hearing into its alleged role in fanning religious riots in the capital city earlier this year.

The Delhi state parliament’s committee had summoned Facebook’s India Managing Director Ajit Mohan to answer allegations that the social media giant did not adequately apply hate speech rules and policies, which contributed to the violence that left 50 people dead.

The panel has asked Mohan to appear before it another day, which is yet to be decided, committee chief Raghav Chadha told Reuters.

“In the event of subsequent default, the committee shall be constrained to invoke its power to initiate breach of privilege proceedings against Facebook India unit,” he said.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But in a letter to Chadha the company said it shares the panel’s concerns and has taken measures to curb the spread of hate speech on its platforms.

India’s federal parliament was already dealing with the matter and so the state body should drop its case, Facebook said in a Sept. 13 letter seen by Reuters.

“Given that the issues raised by the Notice (of the panel) 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 added.

Mohan had appeared before parliament’s panel on information technology earlier this month for more than two hours answering questions on Facebook’s content policies.

B N Srikrishna, a former Supreme Court judge, said the Delhi assembly had the power to imprison anyone it found guilty of breaching privilege.

Facebook is facing intense political scrutiny in India, its biggest market by users, after the Wall Street Journal reported last month that a top company executive opposed applying hate speech rules to a politician from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party.

(Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Angus MacSwan)