Can’t implement system of self-censorship: Facebook to Bombay High Court

Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Monday asked Facebook why it is reluctant to strictly regulate paid political content in India when it was implementing stringent scrutiny systems in the UK and the US.

Hearing a plea seeking directions to the Election Commission to prohibit individuals from posting political or poll-related advertisements or paid political content on social media platforms 48 hours before poll day, the high court directed Facebook to file an affidavit listing steps it could initiate to regulate such content, particularly ahead of the elections this year. “Since Facebook already implemented a strict scrutiny system to regulate such ads in UK and USA then why is it reluctant to do so in India?” questioned a bench of Chief Justice Naresh Patil and Justice N M Jamdar.

The bench was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by lawyer Sagar Suryavanshi seeking directions to the ECI to prohibit all persons, whether politicians or private individuals, from posting advertisements related to politics or elections, or paid political content on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, 48 hours before election day. In the last hearing, the high court had directed the ECI (Election Commission of India) and Facebook to submit suggestions on the steps that could be taken to regulate such content.

Facebook counsel Daraius Khambatta Monday told the bench that while his client was ready to remove any objectionable paid political content from its site, the direction from the same must come from the ECI or any such authority. “We can’t implement a system of self-censorship. However, if the EC, or other authorities flag an advertisement, we are ready to take it down immediately,” Khambatta said. The petitioner, however, argued that in several western nations, if one wished to post a paid political content or advertisement, they were required to furnish a valid identity proof and a proof of residence.

The petitioner’s lawyer, Abhinav Chandrachud, sought the HC’s directions to Facebook to demand similar documents in India too for posting political content or advertisement. “When you can put strict conditions in UK and USA then why are you reluctant to do so in India?” the bench asked Khambatta. It then directed Facebook to file an affidavit. The bench also asked the EC to explain on the next date what could be done at its end to regulate paid political content online. It also issued notices to Google India, Twitter, and YouTube, seeking their response to the PIL.

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