Facebook and Google are facing what seem to be some very serious charges in India, and the outcome of the case might have broad implications for the future of social media in the country.
Facebook and Google are going to have to stand trial Tuesday over charges that have been filed against them in an Indian court. A journalist named Vinay Rai, editor of Akbari, which covers National Politics in India, brought on the charges against the companies, accusing them of not removing offensive material from their websites, the Wall Street Journal is reporting tonight.
Rai brought the suit against 12 internet companies, including Facebook and Google, alleging that their sites contain obscene material that mocks religious figures from the Christian, Muslim and Hindu faiths.
He accused the website of seeking "to create enmity, hatred and communal violence" and of hosting content that "will corrupt minds."
The onus is on the websites themselves to monitor what their users post, saying “social-networking giants need to recognize their social responsibility," said Raj, in the WSJ article.
He also explained what he found objectionable about the content on Facebook.
“The content I have submitted to the court deeply offends several religions including Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. It involves pages and groups where users have mocked Hindu gods and goddesses, Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ. Such content can create communal riots across the country. My intention is to ensure that the sentiments of any religion or community are not hurt.”
Last year, India implemented a law that would allow a website 36 hours to remove anything found to be obscene or blasphemous. An Indian court demanded a month ago that Google and Facebook remove the offending material, but it is unclear whether or not they did.
The lawsuit brings into question what responsibility websites like Facebook and Google have to police the content provided by their own users, and whether censoring the content would be a violation of civil liberties. Facebook and Google both allow users to flag material they feel is objectionable, but Rai did not bring any of the offending material to the attention of the companies.
If found guilty, Facebook and Google executives could serve time in jail.
This lawsuit could have broader implications for Facebook and Google than just the criminal charges they face. India is an emerging market with great potential for new users. Facebook has over 45 million users in India right, up over 9 million users in 6 months and 132% from last year. Some have predicted that by 2015, 300 million Indians could be on the Internet.
India is a country that has over 1.2 billion people in it. It is not shocking that social media website see the country as a huge wealth of opportunity.
It would not be surprising, though, if social networks reconsidered, or at least hesitated, about whether they should expand to a country with heavy censorship laws, where they will face potential lawsuits over user generated content. Incidents such as the lawsuit they are facing in India, no matter what the outcome, have to weigh into the considerations made by companies about where they want to expand.
India might develop a reputation as a country that they will become another China, meaning a country that will repeatedly crack down on social media. India surely does not want such a reputation and has, in the past, tried to reassure the world that this is not the path they will be taking.
Facebook and Google declined to comment on the story
(Image source: watblog.com)