New Delhi: A news portal has issued a legal notice to social media giant Facebook, seeking Rs 10 crore in damages for blocks placed on its content four times between October and December 2020.
Among other things, The Ink has accused the company of blocking content posted on the website’s Facebook page amid the ongoing farmers’ protest, an allegation that has been lobbed at the US-based company a few times before.
According to the legal notice issued by The Ink, owned by Rajesh Kundu and run from Haryana, Facebook blocked its content from reaching the news feeds of its over 1.5 lakh followers without specifying any reason.
In the notice, issued through lawyer Vikaram Jit Mittal and accessed by ThePrint, Kundu has alleged that the reach of The Ink was limited when public political events were taking place “specifically during the currency of bye-election of Baroda constituency in Haryana and now in farmers’ agitation which is still going on, without giving any cogent reason”.
Kundu sent ThePrint a screenshot showing the message that appeared on The Ink page when the latest block was imposed earlier this month. Under the heading “Limits have been placed on The Ink”, the purported message from Facebook reads, “Stories from your Page are not being shown in News Feed. This could be due to activity from your Page that doesn’t comply with Facebook policies. This limit is temporary and expires Tuesday, 22 December 2020 at 03:11.”
Issued Saturday, the notice threatens legal action against Facebook if the amount is not paid within seven days of receipt. Apart from Rs 10 crore, Kundu has also asked Facebook to pay him Rs 1.1 lakh towards legal expenses.
ThePrint reached Facebook by email for a comment on the notice, but hadn’t received a response till the time of publishing.
The Ink‘s Facebook page has been liked by over 150,000 users, and is followed by over 160,000 users.
According to the legal notice, from 20 November to 17 December this year, “the post reach of page is 4.4 million and post engagement is 1.2 million”.
It describes the content offered on the site as “neutral, fair and without favoring to any one or group or party”, adding that it was a “great surprise” that its content was “stopped” from being shown in users’ news feed. It claims the content offered by the site was blocked from users’ feeds between 18 and 25 October, 9 and 16 November, 1 and 8 December, and 15 and 22 December.
The notice then adds that Kundu “had/has never violated any term and policy of your organization nor any news was unethical, unlawful, misleading, discriminatory and fraudulent and the news given by my client has not caused any infringement to the rights of any one in any manner”.
It blames Facebook’s action “during the current agitation of farmers” on “pressure from some corner who is bent upon to damage image, business and reputation of my client (sic)”.
It seeks the damages towards the mental agony caused to Kundu and his family.
Not the first instance
Facebook had found itself facing similar allegations Sunday when the page for farmer collective Kisan Ekta Morcha, one of the organisations participating in the protest against the farm laws, was unpublished. A media report suggested the Kisan Ekta Morcha Instagram account was blocked too.
However, Facebook restored the page in a few hours. Approached for comment, a Facebook spokesperson had told ThePrint over email that its automated systems had flagged the page as spam following “an increased activity”.
“As per our review, our automated systems found an increased activity on the Facebook page www.facebook.com/kisanektamorcha and flagged it as spam, which violates our community standards. We restored the page in less than 3 hours when we became aware of the context,” the spokesperson said. “The review showed that only the Facebook page was affected by the automated systems while the Instagram account remained unaffected.”
On 17 December, Buzzfeed News had reported a protest at Facebook’s California headquarters, including by members of the Sikh community, amid allegations that the company was censoring content that was in support of farmers.