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India is the second largest market for Facebook in terms of its user base with 118 million users online. Photo: AFP
India is the second largest market for Facebook in terms of its user base with 118 million users online. Photo: AFP

India leads in govt-initiated content restriction on Facebook

The social-networking site restricted 5,832 posts in India between July and Dec 2014; Turkey in second spot

New Delhi: India ranks number one among countries for removing content after government intervention on Facebook.

According to data released by social networking site on Monday, the total content restricted (read removed) by the site in India between July and December 2014 stood at 5,832 posts, the highest globally, followed by Turkey at 3,624. Content removed in countries such as Germany at 60, Russia (55) and Pakistan (54), was much lower than in India, according to the report.

For India, the numbers are up 17.5% from the January-June 2014 period when data restricted here stood at 4,960.

The numbers are part of the biannual transparency report for India published by Facebook for the period July to December 2014. The period saw a 20% increase in government requests for user data—to 5,473 up from 4,559 (January-June 2014). Within these the number of Facebook accounts for which information was requested has gone up 22% from 5,958 (January-June 2014) to 7,281.

India is the second largest market for Facebook in terms of its user base with 118 million users online.

“We restricted access in India to content reported primarily by law enforcement agencies and the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team within the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology including anti-religious content and hate speech that could cause unrest and disharmony," according to the government requests report published by Facebook.

According to media critic Sevanti Ninan who is also the editor of the media watch website thehoot.org, the compliance with requests for removal of content in India is much higher possibly due to more restrictive local laws.

She pointed to Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 which criminalizes certain kind of speech on the Internet.

In a post on his Facebook page Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, said: “Questions about free expression and how governments regulate it are some of the most difficult and important issues we face. People rightfully want to know what content we will take down, what controversial content we’ll leave up, and why. I care deeply and feel a responsibility to handle this thoughtfully for our community,"

He added: “In an ideal world, we would all feel empowered to express everything we want, freely and safely. In reality, there are many obstacles in the way. Every country, including the United States, has laws preventing you from sharing certain things to protect public safety and intellectual property."

He added that his company fights to protect the Facebook community from unnecessary or overreaching government intervention.

“Facebook is a new kind of service, so we often face regulations that have little precedent. We push back to make sure we only comply with government demands when they’re lawful and necessary. If we have to block something prohibited in one country, we generally try to leave it unblocked for the rest of the world so that limitations on sharing and voice are minimized. We also work to expose how governments restrict what people share, and that’s why we publish the Global Government Requests Report," said his post.

Last month, microblogging site Twitter Inc. had also released its transparency report which indicated a rise in the number of information requests by the government.

For the July to December 2014 period, Twitter saw a 156% increase (from a small base of 16 to 41) in information requests by the government. While accounts specified in those information requests rose dramatically from 44 to 1,938. The government requests Twitter received for account information were typically in connection with criminal investigations. Twitter also saw a 180% increase in removal requests from the government and other relates agencies. Portion of content withheld by the site went up from 0% in January to June 2014 period to 7% in the July to December 2014 period.

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