Indian Court Rules Social Media Must Globally Remove “Offensive” Content

Free speech took a hit in India. A court has ruled that social media companies must globally remove “offensive” content.

If you have an interest in free speech, the news out of India is no doubt concerning. A court has ruled that if certain material is deemed “offensive” or “defamatory”. Probably the only good news is that the material has to be uploaded within India for a platform to have to comply with an order. From MediaNama:

Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter have to globally disable access to offensive content if such content is uploaded from India, upon the direction of a court, the Delhi High Court has ruled. In case the offensive content is uploaded on these platforms from outside of India, they should block access to it to users in India, the Court held.

Geo-blocking offensive content is “partial” in nature because it can still reside on platforms’ global websites, and can be accessed from India, by using VPNs or by accessing the international websites of these platforms, a Single Judge Bench of Justice Prathiba M Singh said. She also held that according to Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2002, disabling and blocking of access has to be from the “computer resource,” which includes “the whole network and not a mere [geographically] limited network”.

The judgment was passed in a suit by yoga guru Ramdev and Patanjali Ayurved Ltd. against social media platforms Facebook, Google, YouTube, Google Plus, and Twitter. Darpan Wadhwa, who was representing Ramdev and Patanjali alleged that various defamatory remarks and information including videos, based on a book titled “Godman to Tycoon – the Untold Story of Baba Ramdev” are available on these platforms, and sought a decree of permanent and mandatory injunction along with damages. He argued that if the platforms fail to comply with the directions of the court, they would not be entitled to Safe Harbour under section 79 of the IT Act.

The article goes on to point out that Facebook is opposed to the ruling. The problem is that such takedown requests could put them in conflict with laws in other jurisdictions. This has to do with the fact that they now risk losing their intermediary status in other countries if they comply with this ruling. Google and YouTube also chimed in on this case, saying that they themselves are not publishers, but rather, intermediaries.

This case has similarities to an earlier case in Europe where “right to be forgotten” laws were being tested in court. The court ultimately ruled that a takedown request does not necessarily apply to global results. This case seems to be different where if something is taken down, it’ll have to be taken down globally under this ruling.

The concern here is where things could head next. Will other countries try and follow suit? If a company has to comply with takedown requests in one country, what does this do for their status as an intermediary in another country? At any rate, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be a global social media platform that believes in free speech.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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