The Indian government has proposed new rules which would force social media companies to censor any content that might impact the “sovereignty and integrity of India”.
Under the proposals, tech giants would be obligated to take down any offending content within 24 hours.
Executives and civil rights groups are arguing that the laws would amount to unnecessary censorship and surveillance. A spokesperson from the Indian IT Ministry claimed the opposite: “This is not an effort to curb freedom of speech, or (impose) censorship.”
The government’s concerns likely relate to discussions surrounding the fact encrypted messenger WhatsApp can be used to spread misinformation. The Indian election will take place by May, and there are concerns in some corners that Hindu nationalists are pushing fake news ahead of the vote.
Similar legislation exists elsewhere, thought it usually relates to more specific speech acts. In Germany, for example, ‘hate speech’ must be taken down within 24 hours or platforms can face fines.
The United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada often push against encrypted communications online by acting together as the “Five Eyes” group of nations. Australia has come closest to demanding a technological “backdoor” from social platforms.
Monitoring Indian social media is a gargantuan task; Facebook has over 300 million users on the subcontinent, while WhatsApp has some 200 million.
Further, a spokesperson from Mozilla Corp has called the measures “blunt and disproportionate.”
One unnamed social media executive told Reuters: “The companies can’t take this lying down. We are all concerned, it’s fundamental to how these platforms are governed.”
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