India has asked operators of social media networks, including Facebook and Google, to screen user content and remove any offensive material, information and telecoms minister Kapil Sibal said on Tuesday, but denied the move was censorship.
Sibal met executives at those companies along with Yahoo and Microsoft on Monday to ask them to implement a monitoring mechanism, but no solution was reached, he said.
Sibal said he asked the companies in September to remove images and statements offensive to religious groups but the companies had rebuffed his requests.
"We have to take care of the sensibilities of our people, we have to protect their sensibilities. Our cultural ethos is very important to us," he said at a news conference.
He said companies will not be allowed to say, "we throw up our hands, we can't do anything about this."
"We'll certainly evolve guidelines to ensure that such blasphemous material is not part of content on any platform."
Facebook said it recognized the government's wish to minimize the amount of offensive content on the web. The California-based company said it removes content that violates company rules on nudity and inciting violence and hatred.
"(We) will continue to engage the Indian authorities as they debate this important issue," Facebook said in a statement.
A Google spokeswoman declined to comment, when contacted by Reuters prior to the news conference. Yahoo India could not offer any immediate comments.
India's bloggers and Twitter users poured ridicule on the minister after a New York Times report on Monday said Sibal had called executives about six weeks ago and had shown them a Facebook page that maligned ruling Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi and told them it was "unacceptable."
The Hindustan Times newspaper said the companies told Sibal that it was impossible to meet his demands given the sheer volume of user-generated content from India.
India now has 100 million Internet users, less than a tenth of the country's population of 1.2 billion, but still the third-largest user base behind China and the United States. It is seen swelling to 300 million users in the next three years.
As part of a broader electronic security crackdown, Indian security agencies last year demanded to intercept communications sent through highly secure BlackBerry devices of Canadian smartphone maker Research In Motion.
Officials had also said Google and Skype would be sent notices to set up local servers to allow full monitoring of email and messenger communications.
Indian authorities were taken aback earlier this year, when an anti-corruption campaign multiplied on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites and drew tens of thousands of people to protest sites.
Britain also faced criticism last month for considering curbs on social media after recent riots even as Foreign Secretary William Hague castigated countries that block the Internet to stifle protests.