India promises to censor offensive online content

Freedom to offend

The Indian government has approached several large internet companies requesting that they help to prevent offensive content being published.

On Monday, Communications Minister Kapil Sibal met with officials from internet giants including Google, Yahoo and Facebook. He requested that they begin screening and removing "blasphemous" material; however, the move has widely been denounced as censorship. One issue is that Sibal referred to political opinions as 'offensive content'; the 'We Hate Sonia Gandhi' Facebook group (pictured) was one of the examples he reportedly showed to support his case. #IdiotKapilSibal soon became a Twitter trending topic, making the public's feelings clear.

It was revealed on Tuesday that the companies Sibal approached had rejected his request, prompting the minister to accuse them of not co-operating. Consequently, the Indian government is working on a solution that will allow them to crack down on offensive material. Sibal explained: "We will evolve guidelines and mechanisms to deal with the issue. They will have to give us the data, where these images are being uploaded and who is doing it."

Needle in a haystack

The main reason for the denial was that companies such as Google and Facebook apply the same standards to their content across the world. A spokesperson from the search giant explained that although illegal material is removed, Google censorship does not affect content "just because it is controversial". Facebook, meanwhile, stated it would "continue to engage with the Indian authorities" on the issue.

Questions have also been raised concerning the technical possibility of screening content, as India has an estimated 100 million active internet users, who have over 28 million Facebook accounts between them.

theEword's managing editor Richard Frost commented: "It's important that a distinction is made between content that is illegal and just controversial; happily, it seems many internet companies recognise that. Unfortunately for the Indian government, most of the online content it deems offensive is user-generated, so screening or removing it is not only very difficult, but threatens freedom of speech."