Censorship

The Delhi High Court has restrained Facebook India, WhatsApp, Google India and YouTube from publishing, broadcasting or distributing “any defamatory material including the photograph in question” of L Sasikala Pushpa, an expelled member of the AIADMK party and an MP, following an allegation from Pushpa that morphed photos and videos of her were being uploaded to online platforms, reports PTI (in Huffington Post).

MediaNama checked, and a copy of the order hasn’t yet been uploaded online on the Delhi High Court website. According to the report, the HC has also asked for her photos to be taken down immediately, stating “such alleged material is likely to cause irreversible grave and irreparable prejudice to the fair name and reputation of the plaintiff”, saying that the platforms, the defendants, were obliged to remove such material. Pushpa had pleaded that the platforms did not ‘make an attempt to verify the authenticity of the photographs before uploading them.’

MediaNama’s take (Nikhil adds)

Platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have protection under Section 79 of the IT Act, wherein they are required to take down content only upon complaint, backed by a court order. If these companies are held responsible for what users publish, broadcast or distribute via their platforms (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook), then they’ll have to ascertain the legality of each piece of content. That is unsustainable and impossible, given that billions of updates take place every day: they’re intermediaries, not publishers. They don’t upload these photos, users do.

Now they can be held responsible if they don’t take down content upon complaint, but they should have no obligation to “verify the authenticity of the photographs” before users upload them.

At the same time, there is no clear answer for how someone should protect themselves from malicious attacks online, when they take place at scale. The only plausible solution is an improvement in AI and fingerprinting of each piece of content. YouTube solved its piracy issue with audio fingerprinting (content ID), wherein it identifies potentially pirated content, and allows publishers to easily ask for either its removal, or for monetization to be transferred to the content owner. With time, and improvement in image analysis, one can expect that complaints filed by users  can be addressed more easily and more comprehensively. Until then, there is no solution.

A short history of content related takedowns and arrests

– In April, Arvind Gupta, BJP’s IT head, filed a complaint against journalist Raghav Chopra for sharing an image of PM Narendra Modi on Twitter, reported Scroll. The complaint stated that the journalist was ‘misleading general public by fake photographs/images’.
– In March, two youths Shakir Yunus Banthia and Vasim Shaikh were arrested in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh for sharing a morphed image of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on WhatsApp and Facebook.
– Last October, an administrator of a WhatsApp group along with three others had been arrested in Latur district in Maharashtra over objectionable content of videos of cow slaughtering and criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Content blocks on Facebook:

Content blocks on Facebook in India dipped a little to 14,971 in the second half of 2015, compared to 15,155 content pieces in the first half of 2015. In its transparency report for July-December 2015 (global), Facebook said that in India (report), it restricted access to content in response to legal requests from government and law enforcement agencies. It also blocked content identified as illegal and reported by NGOs and Facebook users. Facebook states that the majority of the 14,971 content pieces that it blocked pertained to anti-religious and hate speech ‘that could cause unrest and disharmony within India’.

Also read: On the Delhi HC asking Whatsapp to scrub user data

Our online censorship and Delhi HC coverage.

Image credit: opensource.com under CC B SA 2.0