Govt asks Google, Facebook to regulate content

New Delhi: Concerned over objectionable content on social networking sites, the government today made it clear it cannot allow this to go on and has asked internet firms like Google and Facebook to fall in line.

"I suggested that these platforms should evolve a mechanism on their own to ensure that such contents are removed as soon as they get to know of it… I have told them that this cannot go on.

"I believe that no reasonable person, aware of the sensibilities of a large section of the communities in this country, would wish to see this in the public domain," Communications and IT Minister Kapil Sibal told reporters here.

Asking these firms to evolve a mechanism and come back with a solution, Sibal said, "This government does not believe in either directly or indirectly interfering in the freedom of the press."

The content posted on some of the sites, the minister said, was so offensive that it would hurt the religious sentiments of a large section of communities in the country.

These contents would also offend any reasonable person looking at those images.

Sibal further said that internet firms were asked in September to find ways to handle the objectionable content within four weeks, but they did not respond despite repeated reminders.

In early November, the government had prepared the framework for a code of conduct for handling objectionable information. The issue was also discussed with Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Facebook, he said.

Internet firms have "backtracked" in giving written a response to the framework prepared by the government, Sibal said. "Orally, they had given consent to some of the clauses, but in writing, they backtracked. They said they cannot do anything. They also suggested that community standards of the US will apply here."

Sibal, however, cited US Supreme Court judgements that said community standards differ in the US from place to place.

"Even if the US laws were to be applied here, the community standards in India have to be taken into account," he said. Asked about the future course of action, the minister said: "… Whatever step we take now, we will do it after careful consideration."

The government will "certainly evolve" guidelines to ensure that such "blasphemous" material is not part of the content on any platform, he said.

Pointing out that the internet firms have not yet taken off the objectionable material, Sibal stressed that the government was not interfering with the freedom of the press.

"They (media) were blaming the government for interfering in the freedom of the press. This is far from the truth because we are seeking their cooperation and if somebody is not willing to cooperate on incendiary material like this, it is the duty of the government to think of steps," he said.

In a statement, Facebook said: "We want Facebook to be a place where people can discuss things freely, while respecting the rights and feelings of others, which is why already have policies and on-site features in place that enable people to report abusive content."

"We will remove any content that violates our terms, which are designed to keep material that is hateful, threatening, incites violence or contains nudity off the service. We recognise the government`s interest in minimising the amount of abusive content that is available online and will continue to engage with the Indian authorities as they debate this important issue," it said.

Sibal also said the government will seek details like the domain name, place and orgin of content and the platforms used to upload objectional material on social websites, adding that guidelines will be evolved to take action against the guilty.

Meanwhile, the minister accused the internet firms for not providing information on the use of cyber space by suspected terrorist operatives.

"Sometimes, when data with respect to terrorists is sought in terms of email, there is hesitation to provide that data to us. Some of them have even moved courts," he said, adding that all stakeholders should be sensitive to the concerns of the communities in which they operate.

Search engine giant Yahoo refused to comment to the views of the minister.