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Delhi Assembly Examines Newsclick Editor, Alt News Co-Founder

New Delhi: The Committee on Peace and Harmony of the Delhi Legislative Assembly on Monday examined the editor of online news portal NewsClick, Prabir Purkaystha, and co-founder of Alt News, Pratik Sinha, in continuation of its proceedings against Facebook for its alleged inaction to tackle harmful content on its platform.

The committee under the Chairmanship of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Raghav Chadha examined Purkayastha and Sinha as witnesses in light of the allegations and issues of grave concern raised in the complaints against Facebook. There were allegations against Facebook over its conduct on various instances, including the conduct of free and fair elections and the Delhi riots.

Purkaystha categorically deposed that there is a direct correlation between Facebook’s business model which purportedly thrives on hate for maximising its engagement, thus leading to disturbing the peace and harmony, a Delhi government statement said.

The NewsClick editor deposed to the effect that Facebook has taken a position that as a corporation, it is not bound by the Indian laws, but only by the US laws where its headquarters are situated.

Purkaystha further said that Facebook shows complete nonchalance when asked to take action against the disseminators of inflammatory and hateful material by the Indian organisation, but only responds quickly when such news becomes an embarrassment to them in the US, relying on the purported revelations made by a former Facebook employee Sophie Zhang.

He further deposed that Facebook, through its business model, allegedly thrives on virality of hate as it catches more eyeballs and thus, curbing hateful content does not incentivise them in any sense.

Alt News co-founder Sinha said that there is total opacity in the functioning and structure of Facebook as there is no transparency in its operations.

He also cited various posts which were widely shared during the Delhi riots earlier this year, but despite being declared as fake, they still exist on the platform without any requisite mark of caution, thus indicating towards Facebook’s alleged incompetency in eliminating fake content from its platform.

Pertinently, with regard to the great public importance involved in the issue at hand, the committee has decided to invite the media to attend the proceedings and do live streaming of the entire proceedings for more public outreach with a view to ensure transparency.

The Committee on Peace and Harmony was formed after the Delhi riots. It had received many complaints, which said that Facebook did not remove hurtful content from its platform.

The committee initiated its first round of proceedings by summoning the witnesses, including journalist and author Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and digital rights activist and journalist Nikhil Pahwa, to assist the committee.

The committee has taken cognisance of the complaints against Facebook officials. The social media platform has faced criticism over allegations that it favours the BJP-led NDA government in India to push its own business goals in Asia’s third largest economy.

The committee is also probing if “there is any role or complicity of Facebook officials in the Delhi riots”, which took place earlier this year.

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