Facebook, Google Respond to India Censorship Requests

    December 6, 2011

Yesterday we brought you news that Indian telecommunications minister Kapil Sibal was planning to meet with representatives of Google, Facebook, and others to ask that they screen content his office deemed objectionable, so that it could not be posted to the companies’ sites. He cited a page critical of a major government figure as an example of the kind of content he wanted removed.

We have learned this morning that Facebook and Google have issued responses to Mr. Sibal. In a statement to the Times of India, Facebook promised to remove any content that came to their attention as being in violation of their terms of service, but would go no further.

In a similar statement issued Indian news network IBN, Google stated that it would remove content found to be in violation of either the law or Google’s terms of service. The company emphasized its commitment to the free exchange of information and respect for disparate viewpoints, and so stated that it would not remove content simply because it is controversial.

Meanwhile, Minister Sibal told the press that he had been in contact with Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, and Yahoo on this issue, and that they had declined to cooperate with his office’s request. He denied that his proposal constitutes censorship, arguing instead that he was seeking only to protect the sensibilities – particularly the religious sensibilities – of those who might be offended by what he regards as derogatory or incendiary content.

In light of the companies’ refusal to participate, Mr. Sibal took something of a hard line, saying that since they were “not willing to cooperate on incendiary material” the government would have to step in with a solution of its own. He claimed that the goal was not to hinder the freedom of the press, but nevertheless “this kind of material should not be allowed.”

As might be expected, reactions on Twitter have been fierce. Five of the top ten trending topics in India were related to this issue, with referencing Sibal directly – Kapil Sibal, and #IdiotKapilSibal.

One user suggests that the Indian government would be better served by appropriately managing its presence on social media.

One thing is sure, The Congress and the Government needs a Social Media Manager instead of screening Social Media. #Kapil Sibal 41 minutes ago via web · powered by @socialditto

Another expresses confusion over whom, precisely, Mr. Sibal believes he is protecting.

I don’t understand whose ‘religious sentiments’ are hurt on social media ? #Kapil Sibal pz be clear. 1 hour ago via TweetDeck · powered by @socialditto

While another expressed his exasperation with politicians in general.

Will our politicians ever ‘Trend’ for doing some good work. They only trend when the do (or say) stupid things ! #kapil sibal 4 hours ago via web · powered by @socialditto

Yet another points out the inevitable results of censorship.

#Kapil Sibal has actually revived people’s interest for so-called offensive stuff online… Lol! 1 hour ago via web · powered by @socialditto

Two users approach the situation with a bit more humor.

India: ‘Dear entire internet, please remove anything critical of our politics or society before anyone sees it.’ http://t.co/mE8h8paW 15 hours ago via HootSuite · powered by @socialditto

*** This Tweet has been screened by Indian Telecommunications Minister #Kapil Sibal and deemed inappropriate! ****** 11 hours ago via TweetDeck · powered by @socialditto

A request to Google for further comment has not yet been answered. Check back later for more information as this story continues to develop.

(Image credit: Amit Agarwal.)