India is at the second spot when it comes to requesting content removal from social media platforms. Russia tops the list of the top-10 countries, with 179,013 content removals requested. However, India accounts for 24% of requests Facebook has received from across the globe when it comes to a specific platform, shows a study.
In the report, Comparitech says, “Facebook received the largest number of content removal requests from the government overall, 308,434 in total. India made up for the vast majority of these, with its 74,674 requests accounting for nearly 25% of the total. Most of India’s requests (40%) were made in 2015, when 30,126 requests were submitted. Since then, India’s requests had remained much lower, only reaching two or three thousand per year, except for in 2018 when requests spiked again at just over 19,000.”
Interestingly, in 2015, the Supreme Court of India struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, which made posting ‘offensive’ comments online a crime punishable by imprisonment.
“Perhaps this led to an influx in offensive comments on mediums like Facebook, or authorities turned to Facebook’s content removal system to try and combat things differently,” the report says.
In the second place for removal requests via Facebook is Mexico, with 45,217. Most of these requests (45%) were placed in the first half of 2017, shortly after Mexico started submitting removal requests, as its first figures are recorded for the latter part of 2016.
Therefore, the report says, Mexican officials were perhaps ‘catching up’ on the content they thought violated local law. Mexico’s removal requests dropped dramatically in 2018 (2,040 submitted in total) before rising in 2019 (by 240% to 6,946) and in 2020 by 93% to 13,399.
France closely followed Mexico with 43,816 requests. “Again, most of these requests were submitted years ago, at 37,695 or 86% were submitted in the second half of 2015. But unlike Mexico, France’s requests have continued to decline year on year with just 298 submitted in all of 2020. This dramatic peak in removal requests does coincide with the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris,” Comparitech says.
Oddly, the US does not feature anywhere near the top for removal requests, ranking 57th for its mere 27 removal requests since reporting began.
Facebook’s Transparency Report suggests a country might make it to the list either because Facebook’s services are not available there or there have not been any items of this type to report. The US does not fall into the former, but the latter does not seem likely either, especially when you consider the US’ removal requests across other platforms.
According to the report, China tends not to bother going through content providers and their in-house reporting mechanisms to censor content. “It simply blocks entire sites and apps outright, forcing internet service providers to bar access on behalf of the government. China has banned all of the websites we have used in this comparison, except for LinkedIn and some of Microsoft’s services. In these two areas, it dominates the content removal requests,” Comparitech says.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft account for the vast majority of content removal requests. Still, requests received by other platforms also show interesting insights into where governments are focusing their online censorship efforts.
In 2009, Google started recording the number of content removal requests it received from courts and government agencies worldwide, disclosing the figures on a six-month basis. Soon after, several other companies followed suit, including Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft, and Wikimedia.
Comparitech extended its study to include Pinterest, Dropbox, Reddit, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Tumblr this year.
This year, Russia outranked all other countries with a 6-digit figure for government content requests, making 179,765 requests across all platforms. It is also the highest-ranking country for the number of requests submitted to Google, Reddit, TikTok, and Dropbox.
Interesting, too, is how the UK and the US rank in 11th and 12th place, respectively, for the number of content requests submitted, Comparitech says.
Among the platforms, the report says, the number of content removals submitted to Twitter continued to rise significantly in 2020, too, when they nearly doubled to 80,744. “In fact, of all the platforms we have studied, Twitter is the only platform, barring LinkedIn and Reddit, which have only recently begun to submit reports, that has noticed an increase in content removal requests each and every year.”
Why does Twitter appear to be dominating content removal requests? After all, it does not have the largest number of users. Twitter has around 396.5 million users compared to Facebook’s 2.8 billion.
Comparitech says, “The majority of the increase comes from Japan, India, South Korea, and Indonesia. Japan Twitter has recently been under fire for censoring government critics. Other reasons could be increases in scams, misinformation around elections, and general violations of local laws.”
Russia dominates the number of content request removals made to Google, accounting for 60% or 123,607 request. “Nearly 34% of Russia’s requests come under the reason of national security, closely followed by copyright at 26% and regulated goods and services at 18%,” the report says.
Russia’s requests are significantly higher than second-place Turkey, which sent just 14,242 requests—7% of all requests received. Turkey was closely followed by India at 10,138 with 4.89% and the US at 9,933 with 4.79%. Defamation is the main reason for all of these countries’ requests, accounting for 39% of Turkey’s total, 27% of India’s total, and 58% of the US’ total requests for content removal.
YouTube and web searches are all prime targets for these removal requests. “Of all the requests, 50% are directed toward YouTube and 30% toward web searches,” the report says.
Google received multiple requests from Indian law enforcement bodies for 173 YouTube URLs depicting content related to COVID-19. The reported content ranged from conspiracy theories and religious hate speech related to COVID-19 to news reports and criticism of the authorities’ handling of the pandemic.
“As many as 14 URLs were removed for violating YouTube’s community guidelines, 30 URLs were restricted in India based on cited local laws. Further information was requested for 106 URLs, of which 10 URLs were not removed and 13 URLs were already down,” the report says.