Under threat from India, Google and Facebook removes ‘offensive’ content

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A threat of a crackdown “like China” by India has forced Google and Facebook to remove content that were deemed offensive to religions in the country. The threat comes after a lawsuit by one person claiming that both companies were violating Indian law.

The decision came after a lawsuit by a Muslim petitioner, Mufti Aijaz Arshad Qasmi; with the court asking all 21 sites listed in the case to file a report within 15 days of content removed.

“The review team has looked at the content and disabled this content from the local domains of search, YouTube and Blogger,” Google spokeswoman Paroma Chaudhry told the Reuters news agency.

The law in question makes content providers responsible for all content that users upload, and they have only 36 hours to take down offensive material if there was a complaint. This was the basis of another successful lawsuit brought by a Hindu petitioner in the High Court. Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Yahoo are seeking to appeal the decision.

The Indian Government has been supportive of the move to seek Google, Facebook and others to remove content that are deemed objectionable to religious sentiments.

As Reuters have also pointed out:

While civil rights groups have opposed the new laws, politicians say posting offensive images in a socially conservative country, which has a history of violence between religious groups, presents a danger to the public.

India does have a history of religious conflicts, the last major was in 2008 that saw over 20 killed and 12,000 displaced because of riots. And obviously, they have a right to maintain stability in the country as, after all, a country of over one billion people with all different religious backgrounds can create some instability based on religion.

However, while the Indian Government want to see this implemented by companies, it is realistically impossible to monitor what is uploaded to their servers. The only move they can do is simply be reactive to what is happening, not proactive. It sort of echos the copyright lobby groups who, in SOPA, to make Google responsible to what searches come up or what appears on YouTube that is copyright infringing.

But it also does have a frightening impact on what you can and cannot say. While we can obviously identify what is highly intolerant comments, there are some areas where this can be abused. I mean, take the recent example of a Christian teacher in Perth going to ACMA over a simple 7.30 sketch by Clarke and Dawe. The teacher was offended by this, saying it vilified Christians:

Dawe: A lot of them must realise the damage they are doing?
Clarke: Oh, they do. A lot of them are Christians.
Dawe: So there would be a lot of guilt?
Clarke: A lot of guilt. A lot of denial.
Dawe: Look what they are doing to the asylum seekers.
Clarke: Perfect example. Perfect example.
Dawe: So they’d be blaming each other too, I’d imagine.
Clarke: Blaming everybody. I mean you can’t get anybody to admit to owning up to anything in the whole place.

If you saw the clip, and thank God for ACMA’s finding, it was not offensive to – as ACMA puts it – “an ordinary, reasonable viewer”.

It’s a very fine line, one that any decision should not go too far.

Image: Sudhamshu/Flickr (Creative Commons)

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