India Government Asks Social Media Companies to Screen Content

By: Qichen Zhang on 8 December 2011

The Indian government met with social media companies including Google and Facebook to discuss prescreening user content before it goes live on their respective websites. Executives from the companies organized a dicussion with telecommunications minister Kapil Sibal in order to negotiate the possibility of removing "disparaging" and "inflammatory" content before users are allowed to put it online. Microsoft and Yahoo representatives were also present at the meeting, although no consensus was reached. The Washington Post reported that the government claimed the companies completely ignored their request for screening. According to eWeek, Sibal said about the government's proposed screening plans: "We have to take care of the sensibilities of our people, we have to protect their sensibilities. Our cultural ethos is very important to us."

Several websites mention that personal biases are driving the act that would essentially allow the government to censor the web preemptively. Websites claim that the minister was incited to take action in response to offensive photographs of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi showing the two as man and wife.

To appease the public's fear that the government will force compliance, Google India has released clarifications about what the prescreening procedures would entail. They stressed that as long as the content was legal, they would not take it down. The company adhered to their ethos of making information available to more people, stating, "We work really hard to both follow the law and also give people as much access to information as we can."

Critics of the proposal mentioned the implausibility of the plan. Cyber law expert Vijay Mukhi said, "The government needs to grow a thicker skin instead of censoring Facebook pages on a political leader or banning videos on their leaders.” The Economist also published a report comparing India's new move to Pakistan's attempts to censor the web, writing, "After all, as much as the politicians may dislike it, democracy is supposed to be a raucous business."