Various governments across the world have sought to regulate
online content. The need for regulating online content has arisen
due to a number of factors. These include posting content which
depicts live terror attacks or contains hate speech, child
pornography, cyber bullying material and fake news.
The following table highlights how various countries censor
online content. Please note that this table is not exhaustive. This
table is limited to the most relevant laws on takedowns related to
illegal online content by various governments.
Jurisdictions with Limited Regulation
Many liberal democracies like Germany, Canada, and Australia
have placed very limited and specific restrictions on online
content. This approach seeks a balance between the freedom of
speech and maintaining a safe online community. Most of these
regulations (Germany, EU, and Australia) limit themselves to
prohibiting what is already illegal (like terrorist content or hate
speech) from being posted online.
Section 3(2) of the Network Enforcement Act, 2018
(“NetzDG“) requires social networks to
remove or block access to content that is “manifestly
unlawful” within 24 (twenty-four) hours of receiving a
complaint. Unlawful content is content which qualifies as an
offence under the German Criminal Code, including hate speech and
Pros: The NetzDG and the One Hour Rule
do not create any additional legal grounds for limiting freedom of
speech and expression online. The One Hour Rule is an effective way
to address radicalization of individuals, recruitment to terror
camps and incitement of violence against any community, as there is
a link between online radicalization and
terrorism. Similarly, the AVMA limits ‘abhorrent violent
material’ to content which contains criminal acts.
Further, the AVMA is not vague as it relies on specific legal concepts to determine
what exactly is ‘abhorrent violent material’. In addition,
the EOSA also targets particular instances of bullying and defines
“cyber-bullying material” in a specific and limited
Cons: The NetzDG makes the online
content platforms responsible for deciding what content is
“manifestly unlawful”. Further, smaller platforms may find it difficult to comply with the One
Hour Rule, as they might lack the automated means to detect and
remove such content expeditiously. Online content platforms like
social media companies, internet service providers, email services,
instant messaging applications and any website that allows the
users to interact with one another may be liable under the AVMA.
Moreover, the Canadian Supreme Court’s judgment in Google v
Equustek has been criticized for promoting worldwide censorship of online
The European Union Recommendation to effectively
Tackle Illegal Content Online 2018
(“Recommendation“) requires the online
content platforms to proactively detect and remove terrorist and
other illegal content, such as hate speech, incitement to violence,
child sexual abuse material, commercial scams and frauds, and
breaches of intellectual property. However, since terrorist content
is likely to spread faster than other forms of content, it should
be removed within 1 (one) hour (“One Hour
Rule“) of such content being flagged by the law
enforcement authorities to the online platforms.
The Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent
Violent Material) Act 2019 (“AVMA“)
makes it an offence to share abhorrent violent material online.
Abhorrent violent conduct is conduct that would be regarded, in
all circumstances, as offensive by reasonable persons.
Further, it is immaterial whether the abhorrent violent material
contains acts that were committed within or outside Australia.
Abhorrent violent material includes content depicting terrorism,
rape (including any attempt to rape), murder (including any attempt
to murder), torture, and/or kidnapping. Online content platforms
can be liable under the AVMA, if they fail to remove such content
Further, the Enhancing Online Safety Act, 2015
(“EOSA“) prohibits the publication of
cyber bullying material if it targets any child who is ordinarily
resident in Australia. Cyber-bullying material includes any
material that is targeted at a specific Australian child and may
have the effect of seriously humiliating, harassing, intimidating
or threatening a child.
Section 1 of the Canadian Charter states that the basic rights
and freedoms of the individuals are not absolute. They can be
limited to protect other rights or important national values,
provided that such limitations are reasonable and can be justified
in a free and democratic society.
Further, the Supreme Court of Canada in R v Oakes (1986) said that the
‘true freedom of an individual cannot come at the expense of
dispensing with someone else’s freedom’. Further, the
Supreme Court in the case of Google v Equustek (2017) said that
‘a country has the right to prevent the world’s internet
users from accessing information’ while directing Google to
delete some content from the Google USA and Google UK website.
This allows the Canadian court to direct online companies to
block objectionable content across the globe.
Further the Canadian Prime Minister has signed the Christ Church
Call to prohibit the distribution of terrorist and violent
Jurisdictions with Moderate Regulation
Most provisions (such as that of Singapore, India, and Sri
Lanka) that enable a government to block or remove online content,
have been drafted in vague and broad terms. This has been done to
ensure that such provisions capture any unforeseen instance that
could lead to harmful consequences for a nation or for the online
community. However, the breadth of these provisions could be used
to suppress dissent and free speech.
Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000
(“IT Act“) empowers the central
government to block public access to any content, which the central
government considers necessary in the interest of the sovereignty
and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State,
friendly relations with the foreign states, public order, or for
preventing the incitement to the commission of a cognizable
offence. The order to block public access to such content must be
Pros: The provisions of the IT Act,
CCA, and the POFMA contain some limitations on the government’s
power to block content, such as the orders need to be in writing
(under the IT Act) or that such blocking is
necessary in order to preserve or
will affect the stability of the nation (under the
CCA). Similarly, under the POFMA, only “false statements of
fact” are prohibited and not criticisms or opinions.
Cons: However, the method for
determining the adverse effect of any online content on the
stability of a nation has not been mentioned under the IT Act or
the CCA. Furthermore, a wide legislation like the POFMA may entitle
the government to control the public narrative, as it is difficult to distinguish between statements of
opinion and fact.
Article 6 of the Computer Crimes Act No.24 of 2007
(“CCA“) prohibits any person to perform
any function that will result in danger or imminent danger to
national security, national economy or public order.
Section 7 of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and
Manipulations Act 2019 (“POFMA“)
prohibits the spread of fake news by prohibiting any act of
communicating a ‘false statement of fact’, whether in or
outside Singapore, if the communication of such a false statement
is likely to adversely affect Singapore’s national security;
public health, tranquility, safety, or finances; friendly relations
with other states; any presidential or general election; public
confidence in the government; and incite feelings of communal
hatred or ill-will. The online content platforms will not be held
liable for any ‘false statements’ posted by others on their
platforms. However, the platforms can be required by the government
to disable or correct the fake news available on their platform.
Section 33 of the POFMA enables a minister to disable or block
access to any content, which has previously been declared as
containing falsehoods by the government under
Part 3 or
Part 4 of the POFMA. Any platform displaying fake news can be
required to either correct that falsehood or display that the
content has been the subject of a declaration (under POFMA) by the
government, because the content is suspected to be false.
Jurisdictions with Strict Regulation
Countries like Russia and China have vague online censorship
laws that could result in isolating the internet in each
The Russian Internet Restriction Bill 2012
(“IRB“) empowers the Russian government
to blacklist and block websites containing child pornography,
information related to narcotics, information related to suicide,
any information that a Russian court has prohibited from being
distributed, content calling for illegal meetings, extremist
content, hate speech or content violating the established order.
The IRB also restricts content that can influence the population
(especially the youth) of the country and weaken the cultural and
spiritual values of the country.
Pros: The IRB seems to limit the scope
of government censorship (when compared with China) and control
over the Russian internet through well-defined categories as
Cons: However, broad provisions such
as ‘content that could weaken Russia’s cultural values’
or ‘content that is not aligned with socialist core values’
(in case of China) can provide both governments with excessive
control over the internet in their respective countries. These
provisions are indicative of an authoritarian state.
Under the Provisions on Management of Public Information
Services and Group Information Services, any online content
service, i.e. “public information and account service”
and any private or public chat group in China, i.e. “internet
group information service” should publish or post content that
adheres to socialist core values, aligns and cultivates a positive
network culture. In addition, the Chinese government has been known
to censor content related to the Cultural Revolution, foreign television, pornography, religious material, etc. Furthermore, western
social media platforms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are not allowed to operate in China.
Jurisdiction with No Regulation
The United States of America currently has no laws on the
take down of online content. However, previously a portion of
Section 223 of the CDA, which sought to protect minors from
“indecent” or “patently offensive”
content, was struck down by the US Supreme Court as being
unconstitutional. Perhaps, this free regulatory environment plays a
significant role the USA’s emergence as a leader in the field
of technology and online content.
United States of America
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 1996
(“CDA“) states that it is the policy of
the USA to ensure vigorous enforcement of federal criminal laws to
deter and punish trafficking in obscenity, stalking and harassment
by means of computer. Further, it states that no online platform
will be liable for content posted by someone else if such content
is removed or restricted for being viewed (by a user of the online
platform or the online platform itself) as obscene, lewd,
lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise
objectionable (collectively, “Problem
Content“), whether or not such material is
Pros: This provision protects the
freedom of speech and expression, which is vital to sustain a
liberal democracy. Further, it does not impose any compliance burden on online
content platforms and enables them to remove any Problem
Content even if the content is constitutionally protected.
Moreover, section 230 of the CDA acts as a legal shield from liability for online content
platforms in the USA.
Cons: Since the CDA empowers a user or
an online platform to restrict or remove the Problem Content, it
may inadvertently enable censorship through content publication
platforms. Further, the term “otherwise objectionable” is
broad enough to cover any kind of content that is not specified
within section 230 of the CDA.