The Supreme Court will hear a plea by Ajit Mohan, the India head of social media giant Facebook, challenging a notice sent to him by the Delhi Assembly on Wednesday (September 23). The petition has been listed before a bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari.
On Sunday, the Delhi Assembly panel on peace and harmony served a fresh notice to Mohan to appear before it on September 23, after no representative from the social-media company appeared before the committee earlier to clarify allegations of “deliberate inaction on the part of (the) social media platform to apply hate speech rules”.
Earlier in the month, the panel had issued the first notice to Facebook India head and sought his presence before it. The plea questioning the notice said, “Whether the privileges of Respondent No. 1, the Legislative Assembly of the NCT of Delhi, include the power to compel the appearance of non-members before Respondent No. 1 to express their views or subject them to examination?”
The plea by Mohan has urged the apex court to set aside the summons issued on September 10 and 18, and also restrain the Delhi Legislative assembly from taking coercive action against the petitioner in furtherance to these summonses.
The plea said on September 2, 2020, at the request of the Parliamentary Committee, Mohan appeared before the Parliamentary Committee and offered his views.
Specifically, the Committee is seeking to make a “determination of the veracity of allegations levelled against Facebook” in the Delhi riots, which intrudes into subjects exclusively allocated to the Union of India”, said the plea.
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.
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.