India to follow in China’s Footsteps to Ban Facebook?

India’s ready to put Facebook and Google on trial for hosting content that’s considered inappropriate according to Indian regulations, rearing the threat of banning access to the sites altogether.

The case stems from laws implemented last year that Internet companies are required to remove material, within 36 hours of being notified, which could be “ethnically objectionable,” “grossly harmful,” “defamatory” or “blasphemous,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Of the 358 items flagged by the Indian government to be removed between January and June last year, only half were removed.

Journalist Vinay Rai has filed the criminal complaint against Facebook, Google, and 10 other social networking services for hosting material that “seeks to create enmity, hatred, and communal violence” and “will corrupt minds.”

He did not, however, approach the companies directly, but instead complained to the government about the content that was posted. Did he expect Google and Facebook to magically know that there was offensive material floating amongst the gazillions of things posted on their sites?

Civil-liberties advocates have condemned this case (quite rightly so I think!) as a crackdown on free speech.

Who determines what content fits into the categories of “ethnically objectionable” and so on?

While I know that India is a country deeply rooted in its variety of cultures and religions, and they are extremely proud and protective of those cultures, this seems a bit ridiculous.

To me, the growth of social media has meant the increase in volume of the individual’s voice. Anyone who is online has a platform on which they can make their thoughts known to the world. And that means the growth of satire, parody and, of course, trolling.

With billions of people latching onto that freedom, and using it to say whatever they want, there’s no way it can be regulated, no way it can be censored. Not without impinging on the freedom of speech for everyone. Bad content comes hand in hand with the freedom to say whatever you want.

In any case, it’s unreasonable to expect Google and Facebook to censor all the content that is generated on their websites! Their traffic is astronomical and it would be an impossible take to monitor every piece of information.

They agree to take down offensive material when they are notified of its existence. Surely they shouldn’t be expected to know everything that is uploaded, right?

If an agreement is not made, India has threatened to block access to Facebook and other non-compliant services in India. This would be a crippling move for Internet-based businesses since only approximately 10% of India’s enormous population of 1.22 billion people are currently online. The potential for growth is enormous.

Sandeep Aggarwal, who recently set up an Indian e-commerce site,, says that while “Internet companies have to follow local laws of the land…India can’t afford to send a message that unreasonable censorship of the Internet has started.” If India doesn’t shoot itself in the leg with ridiculous litigation, he predicts that the Internet industry could create 1.5 million jobs and $45 billion in wealth for investors over the next few years.

Next Tuesday is the beginning of the trial, the hearing of which isn’t till May, which means Google and Facebook may yet be successful in their petition to the Delhi High Court to quash the case.

What do you think? Will this become an issue for Facebook? If the 1.22 billion in India are added to the 1.3 billion in China as those unable to access the site, will we begin to see the rise of other social media platforms to challenge Facebook? Or do you think this trial will be thrown out soon enough because of free speech infringement?

[Via All Facebook and The Wall Street Journal]


8 Responses to India to follow in China’s Footsteps to Ban Facebook?

  1. “ethnically objectionable”? Do you mean "ethically"?

    I myself have (through business trips) a number of friends in India and well, what can I say? It would suck pretty hard to not be part of their online lives and and vice versa.

    (And then the rest of it, free speech etc.)

  2. Facebook is somewhat over rated. Ban one site others are still available to the public in India. The people will find a way to communicate. Period..

    • And what is to stop the Indian government from banning these other sites? This is not a problem that is limited to Facebook and Google it is a problem of freedom of speech.

      As captian Picard said in the TNG episode The Drumhead "With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably."

  3. If the social media sites are generating a significant amount of revenue from the combined advertisement and demographic data then they should put filters into the site that can automatically block material that is offensive as best as possible. They should also update their legal documentation to note that while they make their best effort to ensure the best experience for all users, they cannot be held liable for postings by users. Users themselves should be held accountable for their data and if another individual, group, or country has an issue with that, then they can set a block on that posting or user on their own and let them self-police content and let the social media company worry about the multitude of other issues they have.

  4. Joke 'em if they can't take a f**k. maybe if we're lucky the Indian government will decide that accessing overseas banking or phone center jobs is obscene too, and then the rest of the world can stop outsourcing its call centers to India where nobody can understand them!

  5. ''Anyone who is online has a platform on which they can make their thoughts known to the world.''
    Unfortunatly, the ones who shout loudest are uneducated know-it-alls…

    Not to be too optermistic here – but Its likely it is more about religion than trying to stop freedom of speach.

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