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Monday, 16 January 2012 00:00
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Despite government concerns, it’s worrying that India brackets itself with China on the issue of policing the web


Like anyone else, the government has the right to be concerned about what appears on various social media, and this is exacerbated by the claims of social media that it does remove content that violates local laws or its own standards —by that logic, if an Indian court rules something specific is illegal, will Google/Facebook/Twitter take action? Certainly that’s a course of action worth pursuing, including finding out more about how social media formulates its standards —if enough people reporting abuse can get Facebook’s team of professional viewers to recommend removing content, that suggests a remedy in itself. Google’s Transparency Report, published every six months, has data on the number of requests it gets from governments to remove content and what it does with this. Certainly there’s a case for ongoing and more honest dialogue between social media and government—though BlackBerry email are not social media, after saying it could do nothing for months, RIM is coming up with workable solutions that protect client privacy while helping the government investigate illegal activity.

The larger point, however, is that social media are not newspapers/TV channels with one set of editors pre-screening everything—social media is a platform that allows others to do what they want, a printing press in the context of newspapers or a DTH firm in the case of TV programmes. Given the volume of traffic, it is impossible to pre-censor anything and the volume, in turn, ensures much of what the government is so concerned about doesn’t have a life of more than a few seconds—that, apart from a more tolerant view of freedom of speech, should inform the government’s behaviour. Also, while threatening Chinese-style banning of internet firms that don’t cooperate is easy, the last thing India wants is to be bracketed with China when it comes to dealing with freedom of speech.



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