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Facebook says “hate hurts us” at hearing, Delhi panel says “not sure”

A Delhi panel questioned Facebook employees today over hate posts linked to the capital’s riots in February 2020 and the steps taken to remove such content.

In a livestreamed session, the firm that is now known as “Meta” faced severe questions about its policy on hate posts in the Indian context, as well as being asked to reveal information about its employees’ religious connections in India.

“Explain the composition of the Facebook India team including the number of religious minority employees. What is the religious affiliation of people working in Facebook India,” Raghav Chaddha of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), who chairs the Delhi Assembly Committee on Peace and Harmo, was questioned.

“We don’t keep records of employees’ religious affiliations. It is against the law of the land to do so “Facebook India’s Public Policy Director, Shivnath Thukral, said.

Mr Chaddha requested that Facebook submit details on the composition of the public policy team and board of directors based on religion and shareholding pattern at the next hearing.

The committee also requested that Facebook provide any user complaints received from a month prior to the disturbances to two months following the unrest.

“Hate hurts us. We don’t want hate on our platform. Our advertisers don’t want either. We are continuously working on it,” said the Facebook official.

“5 billion dollars was invested this year alone for safety and security. We are mindful and take the issue seriously. I don’t sleep peacefully with hate.”

The AAP leader retorted: “I am not sure whether hate hurts you because you are a business and virality of hate posts bring you revenue.”

The committee wanted to know if Facebook has a definition for hate speech in India. Without giving a specific response to the question, Mr Thukral said, “We have to balance between free speech and safety. Based on the inputs, in Indian context we have included caste in hate speech.”

When asked if India had a hate speech policy, the official exercised his right to remain silent.

Facebook was also questioned on how quickly it responded to complaints about posts.

“Within 24 hours an acknowledgement is given on complaints and if it the content violates policy, it’s taken down immediately,” Mr Thukral said.

When asked for information on posts removed for breaking policy during the Delhi riots, Facebook executives declined, citing a Supreme Court judgment that classified the matter as a law and order matter.

Mr Thukral was questioned if Facebook had filed any offensive content complaints with law enforcement agencies. “We are not a law enforcement agency, and we do remove illegal material. We do not file any grievances with any government agency “He responded.

During the Delhi riots, the committee questioned if the platform made steps to remove objectionable content.

Facebook said that it has a “bucket of measures” in place as part of its anti-hate speech policy, which is a “continuing process” that will not be stopped. When asked how such information was eliminated, Mr Thukral explained that it was removed because of an algorithm that lowered the content’s vibrancy and engagement.

The committee looked to be irritated by the generic character of their responses.

“By stonewalling questions, you are frustrating the proceedings,” Mr Chadhha said.

Most India-specific post-related questions are addressed by a separate staff, as Mr Thukral stated, and the committee may summon the content policy head next.

The panel had asked Facebook India to explain its position on social media’s role in stopping the spread of misleading and inflammatory messages that threaten peace. The summons had been challenged in court, but the Supreme Court refused to dismiss it.

Over 50 people were killed and 200 were injured during a three-day riot in Delhi over the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) demonstrations.

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