Indian Court Grants PepsiCo's Takedown Request Targeting Thousands Of 'Disparaging' Social Media Posts
from the I-love-the-smell-of-burning-Kurkure-in-the-morning dept
A global conglomerate concerned about the reputation of its
plastic “safe vegetarian” snack has talked an Indian court into ordering the blocking of thousands of posts it finds disparaging. MediaNama has more details (and links to court docs!) on PepsiCo’s social media purge.
PepsiCo has obtained an interim order from the Delhi High Court to delete hundreds of posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, documents obtained by MediaNama reveal. PepsiCo confirmed the development in a statement to MediaNama. These posts, PepsiCo said in its petition, furthered the myth that PepsiCo’s Kurkure corn puffs product contains plastic. The civil defamation suit compiles years of posts on the social media platforms, demanding that they be taken down. There are 3412 Facebook links, 20244 Facebook posts, 242 YouTube videos, 6 Instagram links, and 562 tweets that have been ordered removed.
This order [PDF] covers more than just content heavily insinuating PepsiCo’s Kurkure snack is made of plastic. It also covers posts joking about the subject or satirizing the mini-hysteria surrounding the suddenly-infamous snack. This followed another courtroom win in India for the snack maker.
Earlier this year, it obtained an order blocking social media posts claiming Lay’s potato chips were made of plastic. (It was also claimed the potato chips would kill those who consumed them, which they will, but eventually, not immediately.) PepsiCo, however, did not issue a statement at that time insisting Lay’s chips were a “100% safe, vegetarian snack made from trusted, high quality everyday kitchen ingredients.”
The social media posts drawing the most heat from Pepsi have been those in which the snack is lit on fire as evidence of its inherent dangerousness (and supposed plastic content). As Pepsi noted in its complaint, the snack product is indeed flammable, just as many snacks are.
“Any food item containing carbohydrate, oil and protein, will burn when exposed to fire,” the petition said, listing out a series of safety certifications its products and factories have received.
Companies are obviously interested in protecting their brands, but the interim blocking orders obtained by Pepsi target more than idiots claiming its snacks are as harmful as vaccinations. It also took down posts mocking the idiots because nuance and context are the first things to go when seeking takedowns at scale. This tweet mocks the spread of “news” on Whatsapp by listing a couple of bogus news items apparently making the rounds.
If you can’t read/see the screenshot, the Twitter conversation goes as follows:
Prasanto K Roy: @KurkureSnacks yes I know; that was my point. The “news” on WhatsApp–isn’t.
The tweet has been withheld in India, despite Pepsi’s own response to one of the claims made and despite the Twitter user making it clear he was mocking the spread of bogus “facts.” (Pepsi did not offer to correct the record on Coke’s shocking ability to
generate life “melt teeth.”)
The order Pepsi obtained not only demands the deletion/withholding of nearly 20,000 social media posts, but it also instructs the platforms to withhold/delete any post offending Pepsi until this case is fully adjudicated. This veers pretty close to prior restraint, something India’s Supreme Court has actually ruled against. The only thing saving it from becoming a free speech violation is the notification requirement, which means the “offending” content must first be published before Pepsi can demand to have it removed.
But it still stinks a bit like censorship. The Indian government is aiding PepsiCo’s reputation management scheme by granting this blanket request which ignores the context of certain users’ posts. In doing so, Pepsi is no better than any company that issues DMCA takedown requests based on keywords and deciding everything returned in a search must be infringing. In addition, Pepsi’s own filing shows the company has engaged in plenty of counterspeech, which is a remedy anyone can use without having to bring the government into it. Finally, the targets of Pepsi’s actions should be the people disparaging its products, not the social media companies hosting the content. But it’s always easier to target social media platforms than the actual offenders, especially in countries that don’t offer immunity to service providers for user-generated content.