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]