US Media Companies Engaging In Proactive Censorship Of Content Ahead Of India's New Hate Speech Laws

from the proxy-censorship-really-isn't-an-improvement-over-direct-censorship dept

India's government is still seeking more direct control of the internet, using ill-defined buzzwords ("hate speech," "fake news") as justification for broken encryption and holding tech companies directly responsible for content created by users. The Indian government may have passed and killed a "fake news" law in the space of 24 hours, but the term lives on as a useful enabler for censorship.

New rules proposed by the Indian government to rein in tech giants and combat fake news could have a profoundly chilling effect on free speech and privacy online. The proposed changes involve Section 79 of the IT Act, a safe harbor protection for internet “intermediaries” that’s akin to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in the US. Current law protects intermediaries such as internet service providers and social media platforms from liability for the actions of their users until they are made aware of a particular post; intermediaries also must only censor content when directed by a court.

The proposed amendments attempt to curb the spread of misinformation on platforms like Facebook and Twitter by effectively forcing internet companies to censor a broad swath of user content. They also require secure messaging services like WhatsApp to decrypt encrypted data for government use, which could affect the security of users around the globe. The rules also would require internet companies to notify users of their privacy policies monthly.

Just the threat of government intervention has been enough to turn a number of US companies into proactive censors. As Paris Martineau notes in this Wired article, Netflix and a number of other streaming services have already voluntarily agreed to engage in self-censorship, purging their Indian offerings of content that "disrespects the country's flag," "hurts religious sentiments," or promotes terrorism.

Netflix's justification for self-censorship is apparently that this is somehow better than direct government censorship. But this justification makes no sense, especially when proactive measures tend to remove more content than is actually illegal. Add in some automation and legal content is going to get flagged and removed faster than the Indian government can issue self-serving removal requests.

The government's timetable on content removal only adds to the problem. The Indian government wants content it finds illegal removed within 24 hours of notification. Short turn times -- seen elsewhere in the world -- have increased proactive takedowns by internet companies, resulting in far more content removals than are strictly necessary.

Not that these governments are complaining. Bogus takedowns aren't their problem, beyond the occasional courtroom dispute over mistakenly-removed content. At this point, governments need only threaten to put direct censorship in place to start seeing content these governments don't like removed.

India's plan introduces compromised encryption to the mix, which would set a dangerous precedent if companies like WhatsApp comply. If it can be done in India, it can be done anywhere, and a long list of government entities frustrated that they don't have access to every domestic online conversation will see this as an invitation to make similar demands. And once the floodgates are opened halfway around the world, it's going to be tough to argue you can't do the same thing in your home country.

Filed Under: censorship, encryption, free speech, hate speech, india, intermediary liability, it act, misinformation, section 79


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2019 @ 4:56am

    hmm

    As Paris Martineau notes in this Wired article, Netflix and a number of other streaming services have already voluntarily agreed to engage in self-censorship, purging their Indian offerings of content that "disrespects the country's flag," "hurts religious sentiments," or promotes terrorism.

    What if my religion condemns censorship (of any kind) as an act of terrorism?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2019 @ 5:34am

      Re: hmm

      I never heard of that religion before. Therefore it is probably just a cult or a heretical sect and does not qualify for religious protection.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rocky, 23 Jan 2019 @ 5:36am

        Re: Re: hmm

        So...made up shit doesn't qualify for religious protection... Funny that...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Mason Wheeler (profile), 23 Jan 2019 @ 11:24am

          Re: Re: Re: hmm

          Ugh, what is it about Tim Cushing articles that draws bigoted commenters like flies to... oh. Right. I guess that would explain it afterall.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Rocky, 23 Jan 2019 @ 11:26pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: hmm

            If you lump people together and think unfavorably about them because of their belief you are a bigot.

            Having an unfavorable opinion about a belief-system isn't bigoted.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2019 @ 6:03am

        Re: Re: hmm

        Wow I didn't know you were the final arbitar of what constitues a valid religion.

        So then are you also an employee (offical or otherwise) of a major government?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2019 @ 6:28am

        Re: Re: hmm

        Also my "friend" here, who took me out for a week long cruise on a luxury yacht that I neglect to mention, gave me some reasonable "exceptions" that "we" should carve out to "eyeryone's" benefit.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2019 @ 7:59am

      Re: hmm

      I imagine that most religions look unfavorably upon lying, and censorship is a form of lying.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 23 Jan 2019 @ 5:40am

    'Our country/religion is SO pathetic, even words hurt us.'

    As Paris Martineau notes in this Wired article, Netflix and a number of other streaming services have already voluntarily agreed to engage in self-censorship, purging their Indian offerings of content that "disrespects the country's flag," "hurts religious sentiments," or promotes terrorism.

    Last I checked most flags aren't capable of feeling disrespect, and anyone pathetic enough that 'insulting' the flag of their country is actually seen as a serious problem is already demonstrated a skin so thin that you wouldn't even need an x-ray to see through it, such that saying mean things about a bit of cloth is the least of their problems.

    Likewise with 'religious sentiments', as I see anything along the lines of 'blasphemy' as little less than an admission that the people decrying such 'crimes' are under the impression that their beliefs are so laughably weak that they can't stand even mild criticism and/or questioning. That someone saying something mean is enough to bring it all crumbling down, as though it was beyond weak from the get-go.

    Ironically enough, by rushing to 'protect' their flag and/or religion they instead do more damage to the image of both than anyone else could, by portraying one or both of them as beyond weak, able to be harmed by something as mild as words.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 23 Jan 2019 @ 6:45am

      Re: 'Our country/religion is SO pathetic, even words hurt us.'

      "Ironically enough, by rushing to 'protect' their flag and/or religion they instead do more damage to the image of both than anyone else could, by portraying one or both of them as beyond weak, able to be harmed by something as mild as words."

      Every religion and country on the planet was started with nothing more than words.

      Every religion and country on the planet that no longer exists was defeated by words.

      Flags are iconography. Just like crucifixes, the Star of David, etc.

      For a post on a blog dedicated to free speech, I find it surprising that you don't seem to have a concept of the power of words.

      Even "mild" ones.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 23 Jan 2019 @ 7:29am

        Re: Re: 'Our country/religion is SO pathetic, even words hurt us

        Every religion and country on the planet was started with nothing more than words.

        Every religion and country on the planet that no longer exists was defeated by words.

        Plus or minus a few other things, like people, resources, massive amounts of effort up to and including willing to kill/die for their belief/cause in many cases, sure.

        For a post on a blog dedicated to free speech, I find it surprising that you don't seem to have a concept of the power of words.

        Words have power only to the extent that people give them power, and while some have more potential impact than others ('Kill the heretic' vs 'Let's get lunch'), barring extreme cases(see again: 'Kill the heretic') I'll take more free speech, even if some of it is offensive, than less.

        If a country can fall by nothing more than disrespect towards a piece of cloth, it was a joke from the start and did not deserve respect.

        If 'hurting religious sentiments' is enough to bring a religion down, it too was pathetic and hollow.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Bamboo Harvester (profile), 23 Jan 2019 @ 7:38am

          Re: Re: Re: 'Our country/religion is SO pathetic, even words hur

          They all start with an idea. Which spreads through... words.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2019 @ 9:15am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 'Our country/religion is SO pathetic, even words

            Mostly through swords, in the larger number of cases. You forgot an 's'.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Bamboo Harvester (profile), 23 Jan 2019 @ 10:04am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 'Our country/religion is SO pathetic, even w

              Or guns. I'll think very loud at my gun cabinet...

              Nope. They're not getting out and starting a new religion while sewing a flag.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          OA (profile), 23 Jan 2019 @ 12:01pm

          Re: Re: Re: 'Our country/religion is SO pathetic, even words hur

          This is in response to this whole comment branch:

          Words have power. Can be significant, but how? why?

          The power words have is actually the power of communities (and individuals). Words can trigger, direct and focus this power usually by the communication of ideas.

          Bamboo Harvester is correct, but this does not truly invalidate OP's (That One Guy) comment. A common reason for suppressing broad categories of speech is to keep ideas from triggering communal power and harming power structures.

          ...people decrying such 'crimes' are under the impression that their beliefs are so laughably weak that they can't stand even mild criticism and/or questioning.

          'Beliefs' is the wrong focus. It is the power structures built around beliefs that is the issue. Even sincere, reasonable beliefs can be connected to people/organizations who are corrupted somehow, and are then fearful of the potential comeuppance.

          BTW, in a society, it is good to have power broadly seeded amongst its membership; this helps prevent any corruption by any subgroup from getting out of hand (we can all be tempted, but by different things, hopefully). [You also need some "higher faith" to prevent a coalescing around shared self-destructive attitudes.]

          ;tldr

          Suppressing speech can be a Bubble Sustaining Mechanism.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Bamboo Harvester (profile), 23 Jan 2019 @ 3:24pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 'Our country/religion is SO pathetic, even words

            "The power words have is actually the power of communities (and individuals). Words can trigger, direct and focus this power usually by the communication of ideas."

            Almost. The power words have is how communities are formed - a person has an idea and expresses it through language to others. Those like-minded (or gullible enough) flock together forming a community.

            Words work not only to communicate ideas, but to discredit other ideas.

            Which is why missionaries don't ask "have you felt the power of god" but instead ask "Have you heard the WORD of god". Implies their god has better ideas than your god...

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2019 @ 6:13pm

          Re: Re: Re: 'Our country/religion is SO pathetic, even words hur

          Actually, religion sprung from science, as people realized that creations have creators, and began searching for the truth that extends past the "big bang."

          What created God?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2019 @ 7:43pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 'Our country/religion is SO pathetic, even words

            "Actually, religion sprung from science,"

            Chicken and egg? How silly is this argument?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2019 @ 4:28am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 'Our country/religion is SO pathetic, even words

            Actually it's almost exactly the other way around. Science sprung from religion, specifically from the Judeo-Christian tradition and its unique doctrine of linear progression, as opposed to the near-universal understanding in the pagan world of the nature of existence being cyclical.

            Almost all cultures throughout history have had a cyclical cosmology. This makes sense. We live on a spinning globe which is in turn spinning around the sun, and this produces natural cycles on earth. And its these cycles that led to a cyclical cosmology (just as appearances also led to Geocentrism). But this cyclical view is not fertile ground for science. Science entails the notion of progress, a belief that we can progress towards a state where we understand nature. The Christians inherited from the Jews a sense that was most "unnatural," a sense that stemmed from revelation - cosmology is linear. That is, God created and works through history. For example, His delivery of the Israelites from Egypt would never happen again, so it must be retold. The Christians inherited this spirit. Their history became as follows: Creation - the Fall - the coming of Messiah- the death of Messiah - the birth of the Church - the return of Messiah. It was a linear view where history was progressing towards a goal. This linear thinking was important to science. Why? Intellectuals from cyclical world views tend to think "there's nothing new." Instead of looking for something new, they look to the wisdom of ancients who represent a Golden Age. But the Christian could say, "Hey, maybe the ancients didn't know everything. Maybe there is something new to be learned, something that has NEVER been known before."

            -- Michael Bumbulis (The whole article is worth reading)

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Netflix joins mpaa, 23 Jan 2019 @ 5:55am

    Netflix joins mpaa

    Netflix joins mpaa

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 23 Jan 2019 @ 7:52am

    Yet another case where the term "hate speech" can be best understood by prepending the words "I" or "we". They're not worried about actual hate speech; they're worried about "we-hate" speech.

    "We hate speech that disrespects our flag."

    "We hate speech that disrespects our religion."

    "We hate speech that we arbitrarily decide is something promoting terrorism."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 23 Jan 2019 @ 8:37am

      Re:

      Who draws the line between "hate" and "disrespect"?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        NeghVar (profile), 23 Jan 2019 @ 10:25am

        Re: Re:

        Who defines hate? Some consider mere indifference to be hate. Would disapproving of a president due to poor management yet still respecting the president be considered hate? Or would it require a level of malice towards the president?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Bamboo Harvester (profile), 23 Jan 2019 @ 10:45am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I, personally, would describe "hate" as an active emotion, and disrespect more of a passive one.

          But, as I said in the post you're replying to, who gets to define it for others?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2019 @ 11:55am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Perhaps your definition of the word respect is not in alignment with most other people.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2019 @ 6:51am

        Re: Re:

        The word disrespect is interesting in that it attempts to define something that is not there.

        Respect is earned and can be lost. Some claim this is disrespect - ok, but do not try to say that this loss of respect is to be criminalized when heads of state or other rich influential people get their feelings hurt.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2019 @ 3:47am

    What feedoms should be permitted to persons or companies?

    This whole article could be summarised as:

    "If you dont want your government to do stupid stuff, watch it and get involved".

    India can make whatever laws they like, and if some streaming company wants to pre-filter their content so that they are ready to continue to participate in that market before the law comes into effect, why cant they do that?

    Country Y wants to enforce shitty encryption (remember export standards?) they can do that too. If a foreign company wants to comply to ensure continued market access, then shucks.

    Yes, there can be trends. But, it all comes down to the first point. You have a right to influence your own government. Start there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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