Facebook’s biannual report on the number of government requests for user data and content removal serves as a small barometer for the state of web censorship and national attitudes towards internet freedom. It is no secret that every government keeps tabs on users through one web portal or another — i.e., Facebook — but the company’s most recent report on government data requests highlights a turn of events. The U.S. and U.K. experienced small dips in the number of requests the governments sent to Facebook regarding user data from July to December last year, while India, Turkey, and Russia sent in more requests.
India made 5,473 requests for account data in the second half of 2014 — second only to the U.S., which made 14,274 requests in the same period. (India made 4,559 requests in the first half of the year.) While the U.S. has millions more Facebook users than India, India’s numbers of Facebook users is growing steadily. Now, thanks to that growth, it appears that the government is zeroing in on its social media user base.
In the same vein, Facebook blocked 5,832 pieces of content in the second half of 2014 at the request of India’s government — up from 4,960 pieces in the first half of last year. The government’s requests for content removal can be based on anything, and Facebook ultimately decides what to remove, but there is a clear trend here of growing censorship that is worrisome to proponents of India’s web expansion.
But perhaps this is all a reflection of tighter censorship in the country in general. India banned of the film “India’s Daughter” — a documentary by British filmmaker Leslee Udwin about the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in 2012 which has been widely criticized by the administration. Tightening web censorship seems to be in tandem with such reactions. Indeed, the government told internet service providers in December of last year to block a host of websites including the hugely popular developer platform GitHub. India is still leagues away from the restrictive censorship omnipresent in its neighbor China, which technically doesn’t allow Facebook to operate within its borders at all. However, its increasingly intolerant attitude towards media content — and in this case social media content — bodes ill for the atmosphere of internet freedom in the country.