HC refuses to direct Centre to restrain Facebook from 'promoting' hate speech against Rohingyas

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New Delhi, Jan 31 (PTI) Delhi High Court has refused to direct the Centre to restrain social media giant Facebook from allegedly promoting hate speech against Rohingyas on its platform.

In an order released on Wednesday, a bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Manmohan junked the public interest litigation by two Rohingya refugees and said the Information Technology (IT) Act provides a complete machinery for redress of grievances.

"This court is of the opinion that the petitioners' suggestion during the hearing that there should be prior censorship of any publication of Rohingyas on Facebook is an example of 'a treatment that is worse than the disease'," the bench, also comprising Justice Manmeet PS Arora, said in the order.

"Consequently, as there is a robust grievance redressal mechanism in existence, the petitioners have an alternative efficacious remedy and are at liberty to avail the redressal mechanism, as per IT Rules, 2021, with respect to any objectionable posts," the court added as it closed the proceedings.

Mohammad Hamim and Kawsar Mohammed, represented by senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, on Tuesday urged the high court to direct the authorities to act against the alleged propagation and promotion of hate speech against the Rohingya community by Facebook and prevent the "possible escalation" of violence against them.

In its order, the court noted that there is a legal obligation on social media platforms to not promote dissemination of hate speech and exercise due diligence.

There is also a grievance redress mechanism provided under the IT Rules and the Centre can issue blocking orders as well. It was also not the contention of the petitioners that the redress mechanism is not efficacious, the court said.

"Consequently, this court is of the opinion that in view of the aforesaid rules, the direction sought by the petitioners to the Union of India to restrain Facebook from allegedly promoting, amplifying, spreading hate speech covered by sections 153 and 500 of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) and particularly hate speech against Rohingyas does not arise for consideration," the court ruled.

"It appears from the writ petition that the petitioners were not aware, prior to today's hearing, about either the legal obligations of the social media platforms," it added.

The court also said the plea against Facebook is not maintainable as there is no allegation that it has failed to abide by its statutory obligations under the IT Rules.

It further noted that the petitioners have not disputed the fact that the offending posts mentioned in the public interest litigation have already been removed.

Senior advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for Facebook, earlier argued before the high court that while substantial work has already been done by the platform following consultations with the Centre to prevent any abuse on its platform, completely stopping hate speech is not possible as "intermediaries can't be super censors".

The petitioners said in the public interest litigation that they were invoking Article 21 of the Constitution, seeking protection of the Right to Life of the Rohingya community in Delhi and throughout the country.

The plea claimed the refugees face violence as a result of the dissemination of violent and hateful remarks targeting them on the basis of their ethnicity and religion on Facebook. PTI ADS SZM