Is Facebook really crossing its limits? Can government step in?


by Debarati Halder*

The Sunday newspaper gave me a boon to create another thought provoking session with my readers. The Saudi Arabian government decided to block Facebook ‘temporarily’ as this particular website was crossing the conservative morals of the Kingdom (see www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2372651,00.asp). The news clipping suggests that it was the religious sentiment again, which made the government to stop Facebook for few hours in the Kingdom. I use the word ‘again’ because this particular incidence makes Saudi Arabia the third country after Pakistan and Bangladesh to let the US based social networking site know that people from all over the world love to befriend ‘strangers’, find out old school mates, reconnect with ‘long lost’ family members, but line must be drawn when it comes to moral values including religious beliefs.

Being a researcher on comparative human rights, I do understand that US has a wide view to analyze the ‘rights’ and wrongs. But how much ‘freedom’ could be allowed to a global platform like Facebook? Don’t the Human Rights Charters teach us ‘live and let live’? Religious beliefs are fundamental rights of ever human being. How could a responsible social networking site like that of the Facebook be allowed to play with the sentiments of a particular community? Well, yes… a very minute analysis of legal technicalities would show that as a social networking site, Facebook may not have any liability as per the ‘immunity vaccine’ conferred to it by Federal legislations including safe harbor policy of the DMCA and Facebook’s own Statement of rights and responsibilities. But come-on ..... a single piece of legislation or two can not make human beings ‘blind’. We, the users of Facebook from non-US countries, do have a right to believe in our sentiments in our way ..... isn’t it ?

This makes me to think over another burning issue which pains me extremely... Facebook sometimes pays a deaf ear to complaints from non US women users when they are portrayed in an ugly manner by their harassers. Given the fact that US standard of pornography and obscenity differs from non US countries with orthodox moral values; I need to say to the world that this is a painful experience for every woman victim who sees her ugly profile in the Facebook and after repeated requests, Facebook team remains nonchalant.

The DowJones case ( Dow Jones & Company Inc. vs. Gutnick, 2002) established the fact that the jurisdiction of the place of downloading will rule any dispute between the victim and the publisher of the message. Truly, when a bad profile is created to harass the female victim or when defamatory statements are published in a platform like that of Facebook, the perpetrator may not ‘circulate’ it (in core technical sense) to increase victimization of the victim. In such case, the US judgment in the Griffis case (Griffis vs. Mariane Luban, available at www.lawlibrary.state.mn.us/archive/supct/0207/c301296) may become handy savior for the harassers to escape the liability. But then in an open platform like Facebook where such profiles and messages are deliberately posted without using any privacy options so that it can be viewed by millions, definitely attract attention of many.

I further note that Facebook in their statement of rights and responsibilities establish the fact that no one must harm the rights of others, the website also highlights their strict polcies against pornography and infringement of copyrights ( in this context I indicate the personal photographs which may have been used for creating the ugly profile of the female victim); but when requests for removals of such profiles or messages fall into deaf ears, doesn’t it violate Facebook’s own regulations ?

Now coming to the government’s turn to save ‘woman kind’, Pakistan, Bangladesh and now the Saudi Arabia have shown how State plays an active role to ban a website which violates the basic fundamental rights. But how far the State can take actions to prevent further victimization of women through social networking sites like Facebook? In India, Article 14 establishes equality before the law and equal protection of laws; Article 15 establishes gender equality; the Indian Penal code punishes obscene publications for blackmailing and/or abetting any such offences and harming the modesty of women under sections 292A and 509 respectively; the Information Technology Act, 2008 further prevents such sorts of nuisance through sections 66A, which prescribes punishment for offensive communications, 66E which prescribes punishment for voyeurism, 67 which prescribes punishment for obscene publications and 67A which prescribes punishment for publishing sexually explicit contents. Are they not sufficient to take note of the legal rights of women? Perhaps not, because none mentions exclusively ‘women’s rights’ anywhere. Perhaps this is the reason that personal beliefs and sentiments are given more priority than moral reputation and safety of adult women.

As a woman I sincerely believe that now it is the time for the Government to take strong actions against the websites which are being used as global platforms to victimize women and hurt the sentiments of women.





* The author is an advocate and a cyber rights activist. She is presently pursuing her ph.d from NLSIU, Bangalore. She can be contacted @ Debaratihalder@gmail.com


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