The Delhi assembly's peace committee that is looking into alleged misapplication of Facebook's anti-hate speech rules during the February riots in the national capital has deferred its meeting after telling the Supreme Court that it won't take coercive action against the social media giant's top executive in India.
The Supreme Court also issued notice to the Delhi assembly secretary and others on a plea by Facebook India vice president Ajit Mohan, who asked the top court to stop the Delhi assembly from summoning him. The Delhi assembly's peace committee was to meet today.
Apart from the Delhi assembly secretary, the Supreme Court notice has gone to the centre, the secretary general of Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, and the Delhi Police.
"The summon is a brazen violation of my fundamental rights. I am not a public servant, whose statement is required. I am an American company," lawyer Harish Salve representing the Facebook India chief told the Supreme Court.
Lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Delhi assembly's peace committee, replied, "No coercive step is intended by Delhi assembly against Facebook." The committee has, however, the power to conduct an investigation as the matter is not about policing or law and order, Mr Singhvi said.
The Supreme Court will hear the matter next on October 15.
Facebook is embroiled in a massive controversy in India over allegations that it did not apply hate speech rules to incendiary content of some leaders on its platforms. Mark Zuckerberg's firm has had to go through rough patches in several other nations with similar allegations. As more and more political parties start placing ads that fetch big money for Facebook, the internet giant faces questions over content moderation and applying hate-speech rules.
The Delhi assembly peace committee is looking at allegations whether incendiary content on Facebook sparked or added to the severity of the riots that broke out in late February in north-east Delhi, after weeks of simmering protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA. Over 50 were killed and hundreds were injured in the violence.
A Wall Street Journal report had alleged Facebook deliberately ignored incendiary content from members of the ruling BJP and right-wing groups even after the issue was flagged internally by Mr Zuckerberg. Quoting unnamed Facebook insiders, the report said a senior Facebook India policy executive, Ankhi Das, had refused to ban a BJP MLA from Telangana despite his divisive posts.
The parliamentary standing committee on information technology, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, has already heard Facebook's representatives on September 2.
Facebook, which has 33 million users in India and considers the county among its largest markets, has said it is an "open, transparent and non-partisan platform" where people can express themselves freely.
"Many questions have been raised specifically about enforcement of our policies around hate speech. There is no place for hate speech on our platform. We have an impartial approach to dealing with content and are strongly governed by our Community Standards. We enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone's political position, party affiliation or religious and cultural belief," Ajit Mohan said in a post on the company blog on August 21.