Online Censorship: Democratic Governments Becoming More Intolerant?
Google this week brought out its transparency report. It says that it had received 101 content removal requests from Indian authorities between July and December last year, asking it to delete 255 items from its websites. Of these, 5 requests were made by courts.
In terms of requests made by governments, India topped the list. However, in terms of number of items that governments wanted to remove, Brazil, US, UK, Germany and Spain were ahead of India.
According to the Google data, the company was asked to remove 130 items, including 77 videos on Youtube, because they were deemed defamatory. Another 25 items, including 24 videos, were considered hate speech. The interesting bit was that of these only 25 items — 23 on the blogs hosted by Google and two on other Google sites — were considered defamatory by a court.
National security and piracy didn't lead to many content removal requests in India. Google was told to remove only two items because of copyright reasons and only 10 videos on YouTube because they were considered a threat to national security. On the other hand, 22 items were considered offensive to religions, too violent and pornographic.
A symptom of insecurity?
Indian authorities have shown symptoms of insecurity and have reacted in excessive haste in the face of criticism from religious and caste minorities. They denied entry to Nobel laureate Salman Rushdie to a literary festival when a Muslim sect protested against this author of Satanic Verses. Government removed a cartoon from school textbooks; the cartoon depicted a prominent political leader being flogged by another to hasten things up- six decades back! It approached social media organizations to remove a comment on Sonia Gandhi, the matriarch of the ruling party. In a province, West Bengal, the mercurial Chief Minister got a professor arrested for propagating a cartoon on her; she also banned critical newspapers from public libraries. So, it is not surprising that such an insecure government does not want any sort of criticism against political leaders or satirical content that even remotely offends a sensitive social group on social media.The tags like 'hurting religious sentiments' and 'likely to cause hatred' etc often attached to critical content are just a cover to justify governmental actions.
If the world's largest democracy - which is one of the noisiest and still eminently functional democracies of the day - has no guts to tolerate wit and criticism on the social media, can we blame authoritarian governments if they crack down on criticism?