India’s tradition of free speech may be facing its biggest obstacle yet, following an end-of-year government push to require Internet giants Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Google to filter its users content for “offensive” material.
The crack-down came after Communications Minister Kapil Sibal became aware of photoshopped images of Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosted on social networking sites sometime in September, as well as some images deemed offensive to Islam. Sibal swiftly demanded the social media companies remove the offensive material and create human-run monitoring systems for their networks, which would catch such images before they hit the Internet.
The good news is that the the companies ignored him, demanding a court order before they would take action—and pointing out in two recent meetings that they would rather not put themselves in a position to decide what is and what isn’t “offensive.” In any case, with internet usage at approximately 100 million Indians, the companies told Sibal his monitoring plans would be impossible to implement.
One would think that Sibal would leave it at that. And, as of Dec 15, according to a report by the Press Trust of India, Sibal seems to have taken his strident tone down a notch or two, following a meeting with Google, Facebook and Twitter. (His change in tone may be chalked up to the nature of the Indian media itself, a famously vocal bunch of newspapers, writers, and bloggers, just about all of whom seemed to have a choice word or two regarding Sibal’s dreams of censorship)