India vows to eliminate offensive internet content

Indian telecommunications minister Kapil Sibal has called on Google, Facebook and other internet companies to censor offensive content.

He says he’s been in discussions with Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and Microsoft since September, asking them to remove derogatory content.

He’s particularly incensed about doctored pictures of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and prime minister Manmohan Singh, showing them in ‘compromising positions.  He also cited an image of pigs running through the sacred Muslim city of Mecca.

“I suggested that these platforms should evolve a mechanism on their own to ensure that such contents are removed as soon as they get to know of it… I have told them that this cannot go on,” he told the Hindustan Times.

“I believe that no reasonable person, aware of the sensibilities of a large section of the communities in this country, would wish to see this in the public domain.”

If the companies won’t remove such material themselves, he says, the government will develop ‘mechanisms to deal with the issue’.

Sibal is attempting to tread a fine line. India is proud of the fact that it’s the world’s largest democracy, and has distanced itself from attempts to stifle free speech elsewhere in the region.

“The Indian government doesn’t believe in censorship, it believes in self-regulation,” he says.

Internet companies have come in for similar demands in the past. Wearily, one imagines, they’re pointing out yet again that it’s simply impossible to police the vast amount of uploaded content before it’s published.

All have take-down policies for material that violates laws on defamation, child pornography and the like. However, for obvious reasons, this can happen only after the event.

According to Google’s latest transparency report, Google had 68 take-down requests from the Indian government in the first six months of this year, of which it complied with just over half.

“We received requests from state and local law enforcement agencies to remove YouTube videos that displayed protests against social leaders or used offensive language in reference to religious leaders. We declined the majority of these requests and only locally restricted videos that appeared to violate local laws prohibiting speech that could incite enmity between communities,” it says.

“In addition, we received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove 236 communities and profiles from orkut that were critical of a local politician. We did not comply with this request, since the content did not violate our Community Standards or local law.”