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Scheduled Tribes commission pulls up YouTube for not removing videos on island tribe

The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, a government organization set up in 2003 to protect India’s Scheduled Tribes, has summoned YouTube for not removing videos on the Jarawa tribe, a small tribe of less than 500 in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, ET reports. In July, the commission ordered YouTube to remove all videos that featured the tribe. Curiously, the order doesn’t seem to come from any tangible harm that the videos pose to the Jarawa tribe; rather, the nudity in the documentaries seems to be causing discomfort.

Raghav Chandra, an NCST secretary, told ET in July, “These videos are posted under tags like ‘Jarawa Development’ but show them naked or awkward and clumsy. They do not show them in good light. Posting these videos is akin to outraging their modesty without their knowledge,” after a meeting where YouTube was ‘directed’ to take the videos down. Most results for the keyword “Jarawa” (warning: nudity in thumbnails) on the first page of results are documentaries by France 24, Vice News, and Rajya Sabha TV, among others, of the tribe.

YouTube dismissed the commission’s directive without referring to it directly as a ‘legal request’, and told ET that it would only comply with valid legal requests for content that violates Indian laws or its own community guidelines. Chandra said that some videos had indeed been removed, but since YouTube didn’t supply an ‘action-taken report’, he doesn’t know which ones are still up. It’s not clear why NCST couldn’t just check each URL they told YouTube to remove; MediaNama has filed an RTI seeking a list of all these videos, and will update this post when the commission responds.

Not without precedent

It’s not uncommon for different parts of the government to try and police content on the web, even if they don’t have any power to do so. In this case, it seems like the NCST has no power to bindingly direct YouTube to remove videos, as the company has insisted that it’ll only comply with requests that have legal backing and/or violate the website’s own rules.

Last week, the Health Ministry sent a strange letter to TRAI, urging the telecom regulator to force streaming services to show anti-smoking ads and watermarks in TV shows and films. The order is strange for two reasons, one being that the laws that requires these warnings only apply to theatrical films and television broadcasts. The other reason this is strange is that TRAI regulates Internet providers, and at most, the interconnection practices of content providers (which they’re only looking at, and not really regulating yet). They are not a watchdog for any actual content that goes up online.

Before this, Haryana’s police requested Twitter to block the jailed godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s Twitter account, which the company responded to by withholding his account in India. After that, the company also withheld a slew of accounts posting content related to the unrest in Kashmir, following an order from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

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