Facebook, Google remove content after court warning

NEW DELHI/BANGALORE Mon Feb 6, 2012 11:28pm IST

1 of 6. The Google logo is seen on top of Google China headquarters' building in Beijing January 22, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee/Files



NEW DELHI/BANGALORE (Reuters) - Internet giants Google Inc (GOOG.O) and Facebook removed content from some Indian domain websites on Monday following a court directive warning them of a crackdown "like China" if they did not take steps to protect religious sensibilities.

The two are among 21 companies ordered to develop a mechanism to block material considered religiously offensive after private petitioners took them to court over images deemed offensive to Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

Two cases have been brought by individuals against internet companies in India, stoking fears about censorship in the world's largest democracy.

"(Our) review team has looked at the content and disabled this content from the local domains of (Google) search, Youtube and Blogger," Google spokeswoman Paroma Roy Chowdhury said.

At the heart of the dispute is a law that India passed last year making companies responsible for user content posted on their websites, and giving them 36 hours to take down content if there is a complaint.

Last month, the companies said it was not possible for them to block content. Google's Roy Chowdhury declined to comment on what had since been removed, and a Facebook representative said only that the company would release a statement later.

A New Delhi lower court hearing one of the cases, a civil suit brought by an Islamic scholar, told the companies on Monday to put in writing the steps they had taken to block offensive content, and submit reports within 15 days.

"Microsoft has filed an application for rejection of the suit on the grounds that it disclosed no cause of action against Microsoft," a spokesperson for the company said. "The matter is sub judice and no further comments can be given."

That suit was brought by scholar, Mufti Aijaz Arshad Qasm, who runs a website called fatwaonline.org that gives answers to moral questions.

Google, Facebook, Yahoo! (YHOO.O) and Microsoft (MSFT.O) have appealed in the Delhi High Court against a separate criminal case successfully brought by journalist Vinay Rai.

The High Court has yet to rule on their appeal, but the sitting judge warned in January they were responsible for content on their websites and said he could block sites "like China" if they did not get their house in order.

In the Rai case, the court ordered the companies to stand trial for offences relating to the distribution of obscene material to minors, after being shown images it said were offensive to Prophet Mohammed, Jesus and various Hindu gods and goddesses, as well as several political leaders.

"If the companies have actually removed some content, they should put in place a mechanism to do it regularly, instead of waiting for a court case every time," Rai told Reuters.

Fewer than one in 10 of India's 1.2 billion population has access to the Internet, but that still makes it the third-biggest Internet market after China and the United States. The number of Internet users in India is expected to almost triple to 300 million over the next three years.

Despite the new rules to block offensive content, India's Internet access is still largely uncensored, in contrast to the tight controls in neighbouring China. But like many other governments around the world, India has become increasingly nervous about the power of social media.

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.

(Additional reporting by Annie Banerji and Suchitra Mohanty in NEW DELHI; Editing by John Chalmers and Mark Potter)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (4)
arnie365 wrote:
I agree with the court verdict. Freedom of expression comes with a duty of being reponsible- this is taught in every Indian school in social studies under rights and duties of a citizen.It doesn’t make us anything like China. Plus, if its technically possible to act on complaints against offensive comments, like for example if somebody reports this comment of mine as an offensive post, a reuters moderator will evaluate and can remove it, why can’t facebook and google also implement such a mechanism. We as a civil society must be wary of the true intentions of these corporates giants. After all East India Company too was a corporate entity.

Feb 06, 2012 9:07pm IST  --  Report as abuse
MikyMousZXY wrote:
Your comment offends me. I hate censorship and what you advocate is hateful towards my beliefs. I want your mean-spirited comment removed THIS INSTANT!!

See the problem here?

You cant please everyone, and everything is hated by someone. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. I don’t believe in sky wizards, and I don’t read those `magical` books that fill your heads with all sorts of false thoughts. Which is why I can remain objective here, and say that this is a very very dangerous, slippery slope. If I ran Google I’d rather pull out of India.

Google is 100% useless if it is censored by corporations, governments and religions.

Feb 06, 2012 10:36pm IST  --  Report as abuse
ThinkFromAbove wrote:
This action PROVES that “religion” is the wannabee “worship” of an

U N K N O W N God.

The Absolute One, called God, is remaining in the background at this time, just as described in the book of Esther, when only the term “king” is mentioned.

During this time of apparent APOSTASY (complete absence of wisdom), He GIVES everybody, ignorant or not, vile or not, judgmental or not, the FREEDOM to blast out idiocy and ignorant babble along with loud & obnoxious behavior via any media imaginable all day long.

But here comes “religious” Hewn Man (torso void of spiritual limbs), the salt water drop, trying to DICTATE to The Absolute One (immeasurable ocean), who RUNS him, how to run His Universe!

Feb 06, 2012 11:50pm IST  --  Report as abuse
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