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India clamps down on social networking sites

December 6, 2011

India’s not just doing a China when it comes to exports, climate talks or GDP growth, but is also heavily coming down on social media sites which promote offensive content of the people in power. Om Monday, Indian communications Minister Kapil Sibal met officials from Facebook, Google, YouTube and Yahoo and told them to screen what goes on the sites. Mr. Sibal’s suggestion to the online media giants was to hire a band of people who would proactively screen information and curb derogatory content from going up.

The heads of these companies, reportedly told the minister this was impossible, given the volume of user-generated content coming from India, and that they cannot be responsible for determining what is and isn’t defamatory or disparaging.

“If there’s a law and there’s a court order, we can follow up on it,” said an executive from one of the companies attending the meeting. But these companies can’t be in the business of deciding what is and isn’t legal to post, he said. In April, the ministry issued rules demanding Internet service providers delete information posted on Web sites that officials or private citizens deemed disparaging or harassing. Last year, the government battled with Blackberry’s manufacturer, Research In Motion, threatening to shut the company’s service off in India if it did not allow government officials greater access to users’ messages.

India has more than 100 million internet users and more than 28 million Facebook accounts.

In a country which has prided its democratic rights, allowing each citizen the freedom of speech to say, express or upload anything they feel like, the blow to curtailing and filtering expression has gone down as a bitter pill.

Coming at a time when social media sites across China and India are ruling the roost, deciding the fate of political parties, exposing scams and atrocities, spreading news and information like wildfire, governments in both developing nations are taking a firm, bold step.  However citizens, whom this seeks to benefit, entertain and inform are up in arms. Citing freedom of speech which is a fundamental right in India and their democratic rights of having all and any knowledge of their legislative representatives is important in a country which has always prided itself in expressing themselves openly.

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