Google, Facebook and Close to 21 Web Sites Bow Down to India’s New Censorship Policy

India demands broader censorship of 21 Web sites, including Google and Facebook. (Photo: Think Digit)

India demands broader censorship of 21 Web sites, including Google and Facebook. (Photo: Think Digit)

Following a slew of controversies over the right to freedom of speech, emerging superpower India looks increasingly intent on ushering in an era of censorship. The Indian heads of Internet giants Google and Facebook announced on Monday that they would pull content deemed offensive to religious and political leaders in the country.

The news came after two months of negotiations between the companies and India’s telecommunications department–an issue sparked by derogatory comments on Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi’s Facebook page. Just last month, the government took issue with a joke on Jay Leno’s late night talk show that irked members of the Sikh community and other Indians worldwide.

Facebook and Google are not the only sites being forced to back down on lenient controls for user-generated content. A New Delhi court also handed Youtube and Blogspot a term of two weeks to present plans for stricter policing of their networks. Reports estimate a total of 21 companies ordered to develop methods of blocking material considered religiously or politically offensive.

Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo led the charge last month to appeal such censorship, but the sitting judge at India’s High Court threatened to block sites “like China” if they refused to meet the new set of terms. All sites have maintained their stance that the Internet is a place for free speech, but issued compliance reports to the government to prevent being shut down entirely.

India is home to an estimated 100 million Internet users. That number is expected to triple over the next three years. And while various groups and sections of the media continue to oppose the move toward increasingly monitored expression, the government believes it to be the only means of preventing riots in the socially conservative subcontinent.

Sabrina Siddiqui is the editor-in-chief of Divanee.com.

@sabrinasiddiqui