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India asks Facebook and friends to screen content

Google and other net giants in meetings with gov over 'offensive content'

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Indian officials have joined the many governments that are beginning to get edgy about social media and the web, asking internet firms to get rid of content it considers offensive.

Reports late on Monday claimed that the government had had meetings with executives from Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft about moderating online content.

India's minister of communications and information technology, Kapil Sibal, confirmed the meetings today, but denied that the request was censorship.

"We have to take care of the sensibilities of our people," Sibal told reporters during a press conference in New Delhi, The New York Times reported.

"Cultural ethos is very important to us," he added.

But he emphasised that there were things on the internet that "any normal human being would be offended by".

The government wants the companies to come up with a way to get rid of the "offensive" content as soon as it's made, no matter which country it's created in, Sibal added.

Sibal was not keen to define exactly what was meant by "offensive" content, but said he had seen things on the net that would "hurt the religious sentiments of large sections of the community".

Facebook said in a widely reported statement that it would 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," the social network added.

Google told the Associated Press that it takes down content that violates local laws and its own standards.

"But when content is legal and doesn't violate our policies, we won't remove it just because it's controversial, as we believe that people's differing views, so long as they're legal, should be respected and protected," the web giant added.

The news started the hashtag #idiotkapilsibal on Twitter and earned the minister an additional Facebook Page called We Hate Kapil Sibal, as India's millions of internet users took to social media to criticise the move.

India has been becoming more concerned over internet and mobile security in recent times. Back in August, the department of telecommunications was threatening to shut down BlackBerry services in the country if RIM didn't give the government more access to the encrypted messages.

While China is the first country that springs to mind when thinking of internet censorship, many countries are getting worried about the power of social media to drive civil unrest. Even in the UK, the government brought in execs from Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry after the London riots to look at their companies' role in the disturbances. ®

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