Wednesday, February 15, 2012

India won't censor social media (except when they will)

Yesterday, I saw this from PhysOrg: India won't censor social media: minister. "Yay!" I thought to myself. "This must mean that the pluralistic right to be annoying at anyone you wish to - and to be called out for being annoying to anyone you wish to - will be honored!"

But no. Look at this interesting and round-about logic that amounts to Indian governmental officials saying, "We won't censor social media. We'll just censor social media."
"I want to say once and for all, without any obfuscation, no government in India will ever censor social media," Telecoms Minister Kapil Sibal told an IT summit in Mumbai.

"I never wanted to censor social media and no government wants to do so. But like the print and electronic media, they have to obey the laws of the country."
Okay, so Minister Kapil Sibal is merely saying that social medial needs to follow the laws of the country. That sounds reasonable. So... what are the laws of the country?
Local laws prohibit the sale or distribution of obscene material as well as those that can hurt religious sentiments in overwhelmingly-Hindu India.
Hmm.... So, prohibiting the distribution of material (which - if you consider words and ideas to be material - is something that social media excels at doing) that can hurt religious sentiments isn't censorship?

This is like a white supremacist who isn't a member of any racist group (like neoNazis or the KKK) saying that s/he isn't a racist, because s/he isn't a member of a racist organization.

This is like a evolution denier who isn't a Christian creationist saying that s/he isn't an evolution denier, because s/he supports intelligent design and thinks that Christian creationism is hooey.

This is like a government that says that there aren't any censorship laws, because there are no laws that are specifically titled "censorship laws." ...oh, that seems like something I've outlined above...

At least not everyone is falling for this ruse. Pranesh Prakash is - perhaps - a little more savvy about information than the Indian Telecoms Minister:
Pranesh Prakash of the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society said he was "glad Sibal does not believe in censorship and that companies operating in India should follow local laws."

"But on the other hand he has asked them to evolve new guidelines and actively monitor user content which is not legally sanctioned. This makes him look two-faced," Prakash added.
All this hubbub is taking place while the Delhi High Court is telling Google and Facebook that they need to follow local laws, or else ... India will have to do something like China is doing:
Google and Facebook said earlier this month they had removed the allegedly offensive content used as evidence in the court cases.

The groups have appealed to the Delhi High Court asking for the cases against them to be quashed on the basis they cannot be held responsible for their clients' actions.

The comments of a judge hearing the case raised further fears that freedom of expression online could be restricted.

"You must have a stringent check. Otherwise, like in China, we may pass orders banning all such websites," the judge said at the January hearing.

Facebook is banned in China and Google moved its operations out of the country in 2010 in protest at censorship laws there.
So, to sum up: The Telecoms Minister is saying that social media won't be censored; that social media needs to follow laws that are de facto censorship. The Delhi High Court is saying that Google and Facebook need to follow laws that are de facto censorship or else the Delhi High Court might pass actual censorship laws. But India is supportive of free speech and against censorship.


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