Facebook India vice-president and managing director Ajit Mohan has refused to appear before a Delhi Assembly panel probing inaction by the social media giant in containing hate content that led to the Delhi riots of February 2020.
The Committee on Peace and Harmony, headed by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Raghav Chadha, has, however, decided to issue a final appearance notice to Facebook India official, failing which the panel would issue warrants for “breach of privilege” against the official.
In its reply to the committee, Facebook has questioned its powers, asking it to withdraw the notice since the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, which has exclusive rights, was already looking into the issue.
The panel had last week asked Ajit Mohan to appear before the panel on September 15 over alleged "complicity of Facebook in the orchestration and aggravation of the Delhi riots".
Chadha said the panel received the response from Vikram Langeh, Facebook India’s director (trust and safety) on September 14, questioning the panel’s powers while refusing to appear.
"Given that the issues raised by the notice involve subject matter within the exclusive 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 from Facebook to the Committee read.
In the hearing held last week after which the summons were issued, the panel said it believed that Facebook should be impeached as co-accused in the investigation of Delhi Riots that killed over 50 people and injured hundreds in the Capital's north-east neighbourhoods.
The summons were issued on the basis of scathing depositions of the key witnesses and the incriminating material submitted by them, the panel said in a statement.
The Committee had examined many witnesses, including journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Kunal Purohit, author Nikhil Pahwa, and activist Awesh Tiwari.
In its hearing on September 15, telecast live, the panel resolved to send a final notice to Facebook India officials to appear before the panel. Chadha said refusal to appear before the panel was contempt of the Delhi Assembly and an insult to two crore people of Delhi who elected it. It, he said, shows that Facebook India wanted to hide something.
“Refusing to appear before the committee is a contempt of the assembly. It is a clear breach of privilege. But considering the principle of natural justice, the panel decided to give Facebook another (final) chance to appear before it. We will write a letter to them informing them about the powers of the Assembly committee,” Chadha said.
Earlier this month, Ajit Mohan was questioned over hate speech allegations against Facebook India by the Parliamentary Committee on Information Technology led by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.
In its notice, the panel had referred to an article published by The Wall Street Journal alleging that Facebook ignored hate speech and objectionable content from leaders and workers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Amid the criticism, Union Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had two weeks ago shot a letter to Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, accusing the social media platform of being biased against the “right wing”.