Google Inc., on Monday, asked the Delhi High Court to revoke its order requiring Google to take down anonymous posts about artist Subodh Gupta’s alleged sexual misconduct, the Indian Express reported.
This is the latest development in Gupta’s defamation case against anonymously-run Instagram handle HerdSceneAnd which posted accounts describing allegedly unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances by Gupta along with other stories about other artists during the height of last year’s #MeToo movement in India.
According to the report, Google told the court that complying with its order would have a “chilling effect on freedom of speech and expression and be against public interest” and explained that it is a search engine – meaning, it cannot take down posts and stories about Gupta being hosted by other news and media sites since it doesn’t own that content.
The company made the case that it “owns and operates an online search engine — Google Search Engine — which merely performs the task of indexing information, in response to a search query, that is already available on independent third party websites that are beyond their control and supervision and they do not create, own or control any content on third party websites”.
Gupta is suing the account’s operators for a “token amount” of Rs 5 crore for defamation. Last month, Justice Endlaw, who is presiding over the case, directed Facebook (which owns Instagram) to reveal the identities of the people behind the account in a sealed envelope to the judge at the next hearing, scheduled for November 18.
Last week, Facebook removed the Instagram post about Gupta from HerdSceneAnd’s Instagram account — for users in India. Huffpost India confirmed that it’s still visible if you access Instagram from outside the country.
Although Instagram did not officially comment on the matter, a source in the organization disclosed that it will be complying with the judge’s orders.
It has blocked the account, and will also be giving the information in a sealed envelope, the source revealed. However, the source did not comment on the information it would be sharing with the judge—whether it would be the email ID used to create the account, or if it had more direct identifying information about the users of the Instagram account, which it would share.
The source, who refused to be identified, said, “The company doesn’t have a choice in the matter, it has to follow legal orders. This isn’t something where we’re choosing a side in the matter, this is a legal issue and we can’t just ignore it.”
On the other hand, Google, on Monday, told the court that no media or news organisations have been named in the case, adding, “the present proceedings have been clearly initiated with a view to put an unreasonable restraint on the freedom of speech and expression on the internet as well as the freedom of the press”.
Supporters of the MeToo movement and data privacy experts around the world are watching anxiously as this case unfolds as it could change the very nature of the movement, which has thrived on the protection that anonymity offers accusers against their much more powerful perpetrators.