Communications Minister Kapil Sibal on Monday took strong exception to the uploading of disparaging and defamatory content, particularly those related to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on some social networking sites, and asked these websites to remove all such content or face action.

Mr. Sibal, who met senior functionaries of these websites, including those from Facebook, Google, YouTube and Yahoo, asked them to evolve a mechanism to filter such “inflammatory” and “defamatory” content that could create social tension. Besides referring to uploading of pictures and videos having morphed images of popular leaders, he mentioned the use of material that could hurt people's religious sentiments.

“These websites have been told to be more vigilant towards such content and ensure that such objectionable matter is not used on the Internet. They have been asked to inform the government of such controversial matter so that immediate remedial measures could be taken. We have asked them to actively screen and filter all such material before they are uploaded,” a senior official of the Department of Telecommunications said.

It is learnt that the Centre, Mr. Sibal in particular, took a strong view on the use of morphed images of Ms. Gandhi and Dr. Singh on Facebook. Mr. Sibal even warned of “stern action” against these firms if they failed to act. He also pointed to the safety concerns expressed by Indian intelligence agencies which want to monitor these websites for security reasons.

The functionaries of social networking websites have expressed their helplessness on pre-screening of content due to the large amount of content being uploaded, besides the server being located in foreign locations, particularly the U.S. They are also averse to the government's attempt to monitor and control the Internet.

India today has over 10-crore Internet users, third largest in the world after China and the U.S., which is likely to more than double by 2015. India also has over 2.8-crore Facebook users and is the fifth largest Facebook user base in the world and is expected to become second largest by the end of 2012.

The websites, however, offered their support in prosecuting such elements found misusing the Internet. “We have told the government that we will cooperate with the government in penalising those found guilty of uploading objectionable content … we have urged them to prosecute such elements under relevant Acts by filing cases against them,” said a senior official of a social networking website.

When contacted, Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) president Rajesh Chharia said controlling the Internet was not a good idea … but ISPs should cooperate with the government when it came to matter of national security and law and order problems.

“ISPs should follow the law of the land and help create a safe and secure Internet. To begin with, they should end all Internet telephony services being offered by them illegally, which is also causing revenue loss to the exchequer,” he said, referring to services like Google Talk and Skype.

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