Delhi Assembly’s peace and harmony committee on Sunday (September 20) issued a fresh notice to Facebook India vice president and managing director Ajit Mohan to ensure his presence for deposing before the panel on September 23 (Wednesday).
A Hindustan Times report quoting PTI said, the panel warned that any defiance to the subsequent notice for appearance will be deemed to be an act of “breach of the constitutionally-guaranteed privileges” of the committee.
The fresh notice follows Facebook India executives, skipping the hearing of the Delhi Legislative Assembly’s Peace and Harmony Committee on September 15. The social media giant argued that they had already appeared before a parliamentary panel and that since regulation of intermediaries falls within the central government’s purview, it “objected” to Delhi Assembly’s notice and requested it to withdraw it.
The final warning to the social media giant was issued on Sunday by the committee chaired by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Raghav Chadha. “Any rebuttal or disregard to this subsequent notice shall be deemed as a wilful act of breach of privilege and thus, shall entail various proceedings initiated against Facebook India,” the statement said.
The committee had taken cognizance of the accusations against Facebook for its alleged “complicity” in the northeast Delhi riots of February on the premise of the “incriminatory material” produced on record by the witnesses as well as their depositions in its previous meetings.
“In the interest of natural justice, the committee had decided to call Ajit Mohan as an official representative of Facebook to dispel the allegations levelled against the platform and enable the aggrieved citizens to restore their faith on their platform and services offered by them,” the statement said.
The hearing by the Assembly panel started in the backdrop of a Wall Street Journal report that claimed that a senior Facebook India policy executive had intervened in internal communication to stop a permanent ban on a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker from Telangana, after he allegedly shared communally-charged posts on the social media platform.
Earlier this month, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology (IT), headed by Congress Member of Parliament (MP) Shashi Tharoor, questioned Facebook India’s head Ajit Mohan for over two hours about the social media giant’s alleged political links and bias. Mohan replied to some questions orally but had to give written replies to nearly 90 questions.
The issue seems to have assumed political overtones in India, where the two biggest political parties, the BJP and the Indian National Congress (INC) have both made allegations against Facebook of a different nature.
Soon after the publication of the (WSJ) story, the Congress wrote a letter to Facebook, accusing it of pandering to the wishes of the ruling party for favours and urging the company’s top management to conduct an internal probe into the matter. Almost two weeks later, Union Law Minister and BJP member Ravi Shankar Prasad, in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, accused Facebook of having a bias against the ruling party and its employees of abusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The entire fracas has seen increased calls for removing Facebook’s public policy executive for India, Ankhi Das, who was named in the WSJ story. Last week, a group of civil rights organisations from across the world wrote a letter to Zuckerberg and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, demanding Das to be sent on a leave of absence until the company completes an internal probe into the matter.