Online uproar as India seeks social media screening

Tue Dec 6, 2011 2:08pm EST
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By Devidutta Tripathy and Anurag Kotoky

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India has urged social network companies including Facebook, Twitter and Google to remove offensive material, unleashing a storm of criticism from Internet users complaining of censorship in the world's largest democracy.

Telecoms and Information Technology Minister Kapil Sibal met executives from Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Monday to ask them to screen content, but no agreement with the companies was reached, he said.

Sibal denied he was promoting censorship but said some of the images and statements on social media risked fanning tensions in India, which has a long history of deadly religious violence. He said the firms had rebuffed earlier calls to take action.

Socially conservative India already censors some films and books considered obscene or likely to stoke religious conflict.

The country of 1.2 billion people created new rules earlier this year obliging Internet companies to remove a range of objectionable content when requested to do so, a move criticized at the time by rights groups and social media companies.

It was not clear if Sibal was proposing stiffer regulation, but Law Minister Salman Khurshid later said his colleague was calling for dialogue about offensive content, not censorship.

A New York Times report Monday that said Sibal called executives about six weeks ago and showed them a Facebook page that maligned ruling Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi and told them it was "unacceptable."

The government is very sensitive to criticism of Gandhi, whose family has dominated Indian politics since before independence from the British and has lost two prominent figures to assassination.   Continued...