Facebook Judgment: Legislature’s Attempt to Regulate Social Media
Over the last decade, we have seen our political system get involved with social media and simultaneously social media get some of its most popular content, dedicated active users, and high advertisement revenue from the political system.
But over the last couple of years, we are also seeing a mixture of thoughts in the political class towards the power of social media, resulting in attempts to legally control and administrate social media. The Supreme Court recently exposited on one such attempt in Ajit Mohan and Ors. v. Legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi and Ors.
The Delhi Legislature constituted a “Committee on Peace and Harmony”. This Committee received complaints and; also noted media reports that Facebook had been used as a platform for hateful messaging that incited the violence.
Separately, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, comprising members of both Houses of the Union Legislature, summoned the Managing Director (MD) of Facebook India seeking his views on preventing the misuse of social media. The MD duly attended and gave his views. The Chairman of the Committee of the Delhi Legislature then made statements in the press; regarding the possibility of affixing criminal responsibility on Facebook and; then summoned the MD of Facebook India and later both Facebook India and Facebook Inc, the global entity of Facebook.
The political angle in the matter was unmissable, with Facebook contending that it was being made a scapegoat in the tussle between the ruling parties of the Delhi and the Union governments. The Court also did not miss the divergence in the stands taken by the Delhi government and the Union government on some aspects and ascribed the same to the political differences between them.
The Court held that:
The legislature had the power to compel the attendance of members and non-members alike and; initiate proceedings for breach of privilege were necessary, though with the caveat that, in doing so, the legislature could not exceed its legislative competence. The issues of clash of parliamentary privilege and fundamental rights were deemed to be premature. Anyway, the Court noted, those questions were pending adjudication by a larger bench of the Supreme Court since 2005. Apart from this, the judgment holds that the role of the legislative assembly goes beyond merely legislating and; that it has many other essential functions.
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