India Treads China Censor Path
Image Credit: Michael Coghlan

India Treads China Censor Path

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The world’s largest democracy prides itself on being the “free” rising Asian giant. But is India taking a leaf out of its neighbor’s censorship playbook?

China’s so-called Great Firewall has been well-covered (and criticized) by Western media. And as concern of a repeat of the Arab Spring uprisings has grown, so has the determination of Chinese officials to crack down on “toxic” rumors.

“No governments have ever succeeded in banning rumors.  But that hasn’t stopped many from trying,” leading China analyst Minxin Pei noted in September. “The latest to do so is Beijing. Irked by what it deems as malicious rumors spread through the Internet, and microblogs in particular, the Chinese government has recently announced a crackdown on the so-called ‘toxic’ Internet rumors.”

Part of this crackdown, revealed last month, was an announcement that media outlets must not report on stories that appear in social media until they’ve been “verified.” On the surface, such a rule might of course sound reasonable. But critics expressed concern over how the government would apply the new rule against the backdrop of a growing number of dissidents being detained.

“These restrictions are more evidence that the Party feels they have lost or are losing control of the propaganda environment, and are starting to panic about it,” said Kelley Currie, a China specialist with Washington-based Project 2049. “They have good reason to be, with Weibo and the proliferation of smart phones proving to be a powerful combination that allows people to instantly share video of and commentary on everything from an ‘urban management’ thug beating up a street vendor to exposes of restaurants using ‘gutter oil.’”

India, which has traditionally prided itself on having a robust and extremely vocal media, would have been assumed by many to be immune to such temptations. Yet there has been a national uproar over plans by India to screen social media.

As Reuters reports, India has urged social network companies including Facebook, Twitter and Google to remove “offensive material.”

“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,” Reuters reported.

“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.”

The move follows rules passed earlier this year that oblige Internet companies to remove “objectionable” content when asked to do so.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that before the news conference announcing the plans, Sibal showed examples of “objectionable” content to some journalists, “who described it as  pornography combined with images of  Mecca and Hindu gods. Mr. Sibal also said there were images of Congress party personnel that were ‘ex facie objectionable.’”

Such a hands-on government approach has inevitably led to comparisons with China’s efforts to stifle political debate.

“The timing of this move has also raised some eyebrows as it comes just before Anna Hazare prepares to launch another round of protest on the Lokpal Bill,” noted Sumit Pande, writing for IBN. “In their earlier campaigns, Team Anna has made extensive use of these sites to mobilize support.”

Some Indian policymakers may have watched China’s extraordinary economic rise in recent years with a little envy. But the social clampdown is presumably not what most Indians were hoping for as they seek to emulate some of the success of their massive neighbor. 

Comments
6
Lpmike
December 15, 2011 at 01:14

50 cent party, look it up

Yang zi
December 8, 2011 at 01:47

The wise thinks with respect to ideologies, the foolish are limited by ideologies. The need to regulate speech is real and can not be confused with anti freedom.

The same speech is ok in a conventional setting, but not ok on an online setting, it has much more instant reach and influence, the potential damage is too great, think British riot. XinJiang racial.

Think the censorship on this site. I know there is a difference between private and public, but think about argument for guns, it is not the weapon, it is the person who use it.

subhorup dasgupta
December 7, 2011 at 23:52

The timing of this move leaves motives open to interpretation. Internet penetration in India is below 10%. In the last several years of social media “activism,” there have been stray incidents of hate content or offensive content, but all of them have been addressed by the self correcting sensibilities that is built into all social media platforms. Perhaps it is the growing criticism of governmental apathy towards issues that affect the welfare of ordinary citizens among bloggers and social commentary on the web that has provoked this attempt to suppress the right to expression.

Girish
December 7, 2011 at 19:00

@guys

Do not worry. One minister has said that it should happen. This doesn’t means it will surely happen. After all Indians will not accept it and thats why it will never happen.

Leonard R.
December 7, 2011 at 16:08

This sounds nutty, for India to demand Google & Facebook screen
every post made by every Indian user. But there is a little wrinkle here.

According to Network World, the telecommunications minister, Mr. Sibal has
told the companies,

“…he expects them to set up a proactive prescreening system, with staffers looking for objectionable content and deleting it before it is posted.”

http://www.networkworld.com/community/node/79329/

Ah, I get it. He wants human beings sitting in little cubicles monitoring each
post. And where would these human beings be working? Santa Clara, California?
I doubt it.

My guess is they would be working in either India or the Philippines.

So maybe the Congress Party sees this nutty plan as a jobs program.
These Indians could be the countepart to the PRC’s ‘Wu Maoers’, who
post propaganda at 5 Jiao a pop.

Maybe for the next step, India needs to consult Beijing on how to set up a
Great Firewall to block Facebook.

maosome
December 7, 2011 at 10:58

Such a propaganda piece. This is not about China. Stop dragging China into every conversation.
It shows your desperation and level of journalism if you have one.

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