Tuesday, December 6, 2011

India: An Open letter to Hon. Minister Kapil Sibal:

A dummies guide to offensive content removal ( & for the rest of us)Soumyadip Choudhury
Dear Kapil Sibal,

As an Internet professional (and addict) I am appalled by your efforts to take control over what users express online. Not only does the very idea of 'self-regulation' by websites stink of censorship, but also the huge volume of user generated content makes it impossible for Internet service companies to adhere to your diktats.

The Internet is the gateway to India's future and but the draconian and regressive approach of the country's government do not inspire much confidence. In fact, as past experiences show, it only showcases the ignorance and inability of Indian authorities in the matters of the Internet.

The big Internet companies do know their responsibilities. They also understand the medium of the Web better than most government agencies and therefore have built-in mechanisms to filter out malicious content.

So here, dear Sir, is a primer on how to get content, that you may not agree to, removed from the popular Internet services.


As Orkut is fading way from India, it is understandable that you now want to control the biggest social networking service out there - Facebook. I also happened to notice that your Facebook page (linked from your website) no longer exists. Maybe social networking is just not your thing. We expect the Minister of Communications and Information Technology to set an example for other politicians to follow in the matters of the Web, but no longer.

Facebook has a comprehensive section that can guide you through on how to report abuse or policy violations. I noticed a number of fake accounts in your name, you can know how to deal with them here. You also seem to be very concerned about hate speech (and so is Facebook), this link could be of some help. Also going by the government's past actions, you do not want Indians to access pornography. Though there is nothing much that you can to stem the access to porn, you can know about how to help Facebook get rid of porn here.

I know this has been a bit of information overload for our Information Technology Minister, Facebook even has agraphical guide to make things a little simpler.


We know that you have a penchant for SMS poetry and thought Twitter would have been an obvious extension. But the accounts on Twitter that pretend to be yours don't have much in them. In case you haven't noticed, you are the biggest story on the Indian twitterverse today. At the time of posting this at least four of the top trends on Twitter in India are there because of you. If you happen to read though what online India has to say about what you intend to do, your intentions might just get stronger.

If you want to get some tweets or accounts that offend you removed, Twitter is a bit trickier than Facebook. The microblogging leader makes it clear that they do not pre-screen content and also does not remove potentially offensive content. "If there is something that you don't agree with, or find insulting, it's best to not look at it at all," Twitter suggests.

You do not seem to be the type to look away from offensive content; you will rest only when it is ejected from the World Wide Web. Worry not, Twitter has a tool for you.


Moving images are a powerful medium of getting the message across. You understand it very well. Therefore YouTube is also a point of concern.

Every YouTube video has a 'Flag as inappropriate button.' YouTube staff review flagged videos 24x7. You can find more information about content reporting and removal here. YouTube also has a Help and Safety Tool to help combat harassment and hate speech.


The big daddy of the Internet. Even if you manage to get some content removed from a website, be aware that it can still be lurking on Google servers in a cached form. Also most of us reach content outside the social networking world via Google. So if you manage to get content removed from Google's index, much of the battle is won.

Thanks to your government's efforts (and also that of the state governments) India is among the top countries in the number of requests received by Google for removal of content and access to users' private data. Google does not always comply with all of your requests, and I believe you want to change that.

Just in case you yourself are not in tune with Google's content removal process here's a guide.

Since some people confuse Google to be what it isn't, thought it was important to highlight a couple of points:

- Google doesn't own the web, and can't remove content from the web.

- The material indexed in Google's search results are controlled by the webmasters of the sites that host it, and not by Google. Google cannot remove content from other sites on the web.

As a politician and lawyer, you are perhaps more comfortable brandishing the Information Technology Rules 2011 at us hapless Indian Internet users. But I suggest you spend a little more time interacting with us online and you will soon understand that the Internet is not such a bad place after all.

Hope you follow me on Twitter someday.

Soumyadip Choudhury

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