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Social Issues
Google, Facebook And The Debate Over Internet Freedom In India
February 6, 2012
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Comparisons between India and China, two of the world's most populous and fastest-changing economies, usually turn on the contrasts between India's open and chaotic democracy versus China's centralized and controlled authoritarianism.

When it comes to freedom of expression on the internet, however, it seems that India is looking to its erstwhile rival for inspiration: A Delhi court has warned web companies such as Google and Facebook that it will crack down on them "like China" if they don't remove "objectionable" material hosted on their websites.

Today, the two internet giants announced they have complied with the court's wishes and removed unwanted material, and that they have come up with a plan to monitor for content deemed offensive to religious and social sensibilities. Both companies were taken to court by private petitioners upset over images they considered offensive to Hindus and Muslims, following a law passed last year making internet companies responsible for any content uploaded by their users.

India's communications minister Kapil Sibal has already vowed to fight "insulting material" and images on the internet, saying that his government would demand internet firms "give us the data, where these images are being uploaded and who is doing it."

The world's largest democracy is now undergoing a debate about online censorship, similar to the discussion that took place recently over SOPA in the United States and that is still happening over Bill C-11 in Canada. The Indian law means that a site such as Facebook or Google's YouTube could be entirely blocked in India should an individual user post material considered "insulting."

The cases before the court have turned on questions of religious sensibilities - one of the items in question has been an image of pigs running through the streets of Mecca, Islam's holiest city.

But critics are worried that the potential for censorship could extend into the political realm: Sibal was reportedly angered last year over satirical, manipulated photos of India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the president of the Indian National Congress party, Sonia Gandhi.

That means that Facebook pages such as Draw Sonia Day, which has made quite a sport of lampooning Sibal, Singh and Gandhi, could soon be pre-emptively removed. And where would India's political satirists turn for joke pictures of their political leaders? This may be your last chance:




Related Stories on Strombo.com:

SOAPBOX: Michael Geist on Bill C-11

SOPA May Be On The Backburner, But The Battle Over Internet Regulation Isn't



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Draw Sonia Day On Facebook


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