NEW DELHI: On Thursday, Facebook told Delhi HC that it is a private party and, therefore, the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution cannot be asserted against it.
During a hearing, FB has said that users enter into an agreement with the company when they sign up to use its services, and therefore, the relationship between the users and its platform arises out of a private contract, in the form of Meta’s Terms of Service.
During a hearing, it is said that – “Meta does not perform an inalienable sovereign function and does not exclusively perform a function of public importance as a monopoly in its field. Meta is a private party, and Instagram users in India enter into an agreement with Meta when they register to use the Instagram Service. The Instagram Service is a free and voluntary platform, and Petitioner has no fundamental right to use it… Accordingly, Petitioner’s attempt to assert Article 19 rights against Meta, a private entity, is improper, contrary to law, and ought to be denied,”
The affidavit was filed by Kathryn Duvall, He is a power of attorney holder of Meta Platforms with advocate Tejas Karia of Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas and Co.
The plea filed by Wokeflix (Another party) through Advocate Mukesh Sharma, had said that on November 28, 2021, Instagram removed one of its stories. Later that day, it even disabled the handle on the ground that it contained hate speech.
The affidavit filed by Meta in response to this plea stated that the High Court’s writ jurisdiction cannot be invoked against it. since it is a private company and not a “State” or “Other Authority” under Article 12 of the Constitution. It said that Meta is not amenable to the High Court’s writ jurisdiction because it does not discharge any “public function”.
The response further submitted that no direction can be passed against Meta quashing its decision to suspend the petitioner’s account because Meta is not a judicial or a quasi-judicial authority.
“Petitioner is erroneously trying to define Meta’s action of disabling their post and account as a quasi-judicial act, when it is merely action taken in accordance with a private contract and has resulted in a contractual dispute between two private parties. Given that the relationship between Meta and Petitioner is purely contractual, and that Meta does not have judicial or quasi-judicial authority, Petitioner’s attempt to obtain reliefs in the nature of certiorari should be denied.”
Dealing with Wokeflix’s claim that it was not granted any opportunity of hearing before the account was suspended, the affidavit said that the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 make it clear that a user is only entitled to an opportunity to be heard after the action is taken.
Apart from Wokeflix’s plea, the Delhi High Court has seized of nearly half a dozen other matters dealing with the issue of suspension of handles and accounts by various social media intermediaries.
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(MARCH – APRIL 2022)