India’s ongoing battle to remove content that it deems to be unsuitable from social networks has taken a new turn, after a local court ordered Google, Facebook and up to twenty other Internet firms to remove “unacceptable” images from their sites.
The court is acting in response to images of religious figures which are deemed to be “unacceptable to national standards”, according to a report from Xinhua. A statement from civil judge Mukesh Kumar explains the complaint in more detail:
Contents which are uploaded by some miscreants through these social media sites are highly unacceptable and are inflammatory and derogatory which cannot be accepted by any religion.
The summons comes after India’s acting telecom minister Kapil Sibal found himself in hot water over web censorship in the country. A report from the New York Times suggested that Sibal was looking to introduce measures that would pre-screen all Internet content before it is published. The move was in response to images that Sibal claims depicted religious figures in pornographic and unsavoury ways, but many Indians mocked and criticised Sibal and the plan for being infeasible.
A move to pre-screen web content would be almost impossible, as Sibal admitted in a recent interview, before going on to claim that he had been misquoted on the issue. The minister clarified that he has plans to speak to Internet providers as he looks to agree a system that will address the issue of unsuitable content. Sibal hinted that the government may need to tackle the issue itself, if talks do not progress:
This is business in progress. We will evolve a consensus and, if the sites still don’t accept it, then we will have to do something about it [as] this kind of content should not be in the public arena.
Sibal is focused on creating a new system as he claims that India’s legal framework does not have the power to remedy the situation, as it cannot force Internet companies to reveal the identity of those that post content nor can they be forced to remove it. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how the companies respond to the court.
Google, Facebook and others have already publicly spoken of their commitment to removing unsavoury content, but using their own standards and methods. It seems unlikely that, having stood firm in the wake of pressure from Sibal already, the court decision will see them take further action, particularly going on Google’s recent comments on the issue:
We work really hard to make sure that people have as much access to information as possible, while also following the law. This means that when content is illegal, we abide by local law and take it down.
And even where content is legal but breaks or violates our own terms and conditions we take that down too, once we have been notified about it, but when content is legal and does not violate our policies, we will not remove it just because it is controversial, as we believe that people’s differing views, so long as they are legal, should be respected and protected.
In Thailand, where content defaming the royal family is a crime, Google has removed videos from YouTube but things are less clear cut in India as the content is not clearly in breach of the country’s laws.