India is asking Facebook and Google to proactively remove offensive content, forcing such social networks and seach engines to choose between their integrity against plans for growth on the subcontinent.
Indian executives from Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft met Telecoms and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal to discuss the government’s demands for increased monitoring. No agreement, however, emerged between the parties.
Explaining India’s request, Sibal cited inflammatory Internet images like one depicting pigs running through Mecca to make his case. “We’ll certainly evolve guidelines to ensure that such blasphemous material is not part of content on any platform,” he vowed.
India has long suffered violent religious clashes, making such pictures especially worrisome to officials as they strive to maintain peace and gather political support from people of varying faiths.
Sibal says he “does not believe in interfering in the freedom of the press,” but “#IdiotKapilSibal” was one of India’s most tweeted hash tags yesterday. And it isn’t only citizens expressing concern over Indian officials’ requests, but also social media and search companies.
Google and Facebook responded saying they already remove illegal posts and content that violates their policies against inciting hatred.
“But when content is legal and doesn’t violate our policies, we won’t remove it just because it’s controversial, as we believe that people’s differing views, so long as they’re legal, should be respected and protected,” Google added.
Social media and search companies may not acquiesce to India’s request, considering their previously stated support of Internet freedom.
On the other hand, RIM recently cooperated with India when it gave the country access to consumer emails and its BlackBerry Messenger services.
Still, Google, Facebook and others have a large stake in the Indian economy and cannot afford to alienate the country’s government by utterly refusing its demands, putting them in a tough position.
India’s mobile growth is spurring social network membership, and Facebook could see over 50 million registered users in India climb aboard the service next year.
“There’s a mob out there,” said Tarun Abhichandani, group business director at IMRB International, which is part of the world’s largest ad agency, WPP Group. “India has a young demographic, and it’s social networking that brings them online.”
Social media and tech companies will need to tread lightly as they continue talks with India’s government, especially if they wish to claim a stake in its burgeoning market.