Indian Government Proposes Social Media Rules That Could Suppress Users’ Speech

January 20, 2019, 4:54 PM UTC
Cropped Image Of Man Using Laptop
Francesco Cantone—Getty Images/EyeEm

The Indian government is proposing new rules that aim to prevent the spread of misinformation on social media, sparking free speech concerns among local advocacy groups.

The government has proposed to amend Section 79 of the country’s IT Act, which would require social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to censor content deemed inappropriate by the government, according to The Verge.

If amended, the law would require social media networks to provide users’ private messages to the government, if they’re requested. Additionally, social media platforms would need to send users a monthly copy of their privacy policies. Civil liberties group Internet Freedom Foundation said the new rules could “break end to end encryption” and would be a “sledgehammer to online free speech.”

Some companies have responded to the proposal by self-censoring. Netflix on Thursday banned content that would be considered unlawful, in an attempt to “avoid official government censorship,” BuzzFeed News reported. Eight other streaming services did the same.

The Indian government has not specified what would qualify as “unlawful” content; however, it would likely include hate speech, defamation, child abuse, and rape imagery, according to Wired.

“Whittling down intermediary liability protections and undermining end-to-end encryption are blunt and disproportionate tools that fail to strike the right balance,” said Mozilla policy adviser Amba Kak.

Some activists are concerned the proposed rules could lead to the mass surveillance of internet users, in addition to government suppression of speech, BuzzFeed News reported.