Business, Finance & Economics

India asks Facebook et al to censor content


Want the world's cheapest tablet? Don't doctor this photo. Indian telecommunications minister Kapil Sibal has reportedly asked Facebook and other web companies to start censoring user content for defamatory pictures and statements. Good luck with that.



Quick quiz: What's the legal standard for defamation?

Not sure.  Well, don't post on Facebook.  At least that's what the Indian government seems to be saying.

According to the BBC, India has asked social networking sites and internet companies to police the web, removing content that defames religious or political leaders.

But how is the site to know?  Last I checked, defamation was grounds for a lawsuit, in which the injured party has to prove that the statements made about him aren't true.

In that sense, many Indian politicians and more than a few religious leaders wouldn't have a leg to stand on.

Telecom minister Kapil Sibal reportedly gave some educational examples, showing the web execs doctored pictures of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, the BBC said. 

So, one wonders: Do only Congress Party politicians get hammered on the web?

Here's the Atlantic Wire's Adam Clark Estes on the parallels with China's crackdown on web speech:

India's proposed site-screening sounds rather unworkable. Apparently, it all started six months ago, when India's acting telecommunications minister Kapil Sibal told government officials that disparaging comments on the Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi's Facebook page were "unacceptable" and eventually asked executives from Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo "to set up a proactive prescreening system, with staffers looking for objectionable content and deleting it before it is posted." India Ink's Heather Timmons explains that the companies' representatives "will tell Mr. Sibal at the meeting on Monday that his demand is impossible, given the volume of user-generated content coming from India, and that they cannot be responsible for determining what is and isn't defamatory or disparaging." And the volume must be huge; Facebook alone has 25 million users in India.

Sibal's request resembles the Great Firewall of China, but the execution is notably different. Internet companies' obeying the Indian government and removing "unacceptable" user generated content opens up the possibility of pretty broad-based censorship, but we don't yet know many details about what the Indian government's proposal would block. Do Indian officials want to block certain bad words or offensive images? That already happens all over the world, including the United States, and falls more in the more justified realm of keeping obscenity off of sites accessible to all ages. Do Indian officials want broader powers, like the ability to stifle any and all criticism? This is starting to sound Tiananmen-inspired.