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Seek removal of offensive content, not censorship: Sibal on FB, Google data

"Religious sentiments of many communities and of any reasonable person is being hurt because of content which is on the sites," Sibal told reporters in Delhi.

BT Online Bureau   New Delhi     Last Updated: December 7, 2011  | 08:34 IST

Communications Minister Kapil Sibal on Tuesday asked operators of social media networks, including Facebook and Google, to screen and eliminate "objectionable" content on their sites, but denied the move was 'censorship'.

The telecom minister had earlier on Monday met executives of these companies, including Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft, during which the executives declined to remove the "offensive" content.

"Religious sentiments of many communities and of any reasonable person is being hurt because of content which is on the sites," Sibal told reporters in Delhi.

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The minister said he had first met with officials of Facebook, Twitter and Orkut on September 5 to discuss the concerns of the government over objectionable pictures being posted on their sites by users.

The pictures, which were shown off the record, depicted Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in bad light, while some others were insulting to various religions.

After a series of meetings, the companies still did not provide a solution to the problem and did not remove the content either.

"The secretary, department of telecommunication, Chandershaker called a meeting with them on October 19 and it was decided that a framework would be prepared for the code of conduct of the intermediary in cases of these kinds of material or content," said Sibal.

"They orally agreed to many of the clauses but in a written reply did not agreed to any of the clauses," he added.

The minister said he did not want to come to the press on this issue but was forced to do so after The New York Times reported that the government was trying to censor these sites, which was not true.

"This is far from the truth. If someone does not wants to remove this kind of incendiary material then the government has to do something about it," said Sibal.
A Reuters report says Sibal has made it clear that the companies will not be allowed to say - 'We throw up our hands, we can't do anything about this.'

"We'll certainly evolve guidelines to ensure that such blasphemous material is not part of content on any platform."

Facebook said it recognised the government's wish to minimise the amount of offensive content on the web. The California-based company said it removes content that violates company rules on nudity and inciting violence and hatred.

"(We) will continue to engage the Indian authorities as they debate this important issue," Facebook said in a statement.

India's bloggers and Twitter users poured ridicule on the minister after The New York Times report on Monday said Sibal had called executives about six weeks ago and had shown them a Facebook page that maligned ruling Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi and told them it was "unacceptable."

India now has 100 million Internet users, less than a tenth of the country's population of 1.2 billion, but still the third-largest user base behind China and the United States. It is seen swelling to 300 million users in the next three years.

- With inputs from IANS

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