Google and Facebook removed allegedly offensive content from some of their Indian websites Monday, following a court ruling seen as a test for online censorship in the world’s largest democracy.
The two online giants are among 21 Internet companies that are responding to an Indian court decision ordering them to block material deemed offensive to Hindus, Muslims and Christians.
At the heart of the dispute is a law passed in India last year that makes companies responsible for user content posted on their websites and requires them to remove such content within 36 hours in case of a complaint.
The judge hearing the case against the companies warned that unless they cooperated in protecting religious sensibilities, they could face a government crackdown on online expression “like in China.”
Some Internet firms, including Yahoo! and Microsoft, have appealed, asking for the case to be dismissed on the basis that they cannot be held responsible for the actions of users on company platforms.
Civil rights groups in India oppose the law, while the government insists the objective is not to encroach on the fundamental right of free speech guaranteed by the county’s constitution.
Some politicians say that posting offensive material in the socially conservative country – which has a history of violence between religious groups – presents a danger to the public as Internet use grows.