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Indian government slammed over call for censorship of social networks

A digital backlash has followed India’s minister for communications and IT Kapil Sibal’s request last week that social media operators remove “offensive material” from their sites and “pre-screen” the material uploaded onto them.

The government, he said, would “set guidelines” for social networks. Although Sibal has since reportedly denied wanting to promote censorship, but instead to just prevent “hate speech against religious groups" and “offensive” material.

“India is the world leader in the issuance of specific censorship orders, ahead of China and Pakistan. According to Google's Transparency Report, in the first six months of this year, Indian authorities issued 236 takedown requests for Orkut, and 68 others for other content, of which only three requests were about hate speech,” Mahesh Murthy, founder of digital brand management firm Pinstorm, is reported as saying in the Times of India.

The term ‘offensive’ is criticised by India’s digital activists saying that it enables the government to censor anything it considers is a threat to ‘national unity’, ‘integrity’, and ‘public order’. They also point to upcoming elections as the reason for the heightened criticism of online content.

“Social media is not like print or TV where editors pre-screen all material. Social media creates forums for millions to speak to each other. You can’t blame telephone companies for conversations,” Kabir Bedi, actor/producer and anti-corruption protestor, told the newspaper.

Currently just a tenth of India’s population now uses the Internet – but at over 100 million users it provides the third highest country total after China and the US. Predictions suggest that numbers could treble within the next three years.

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