Tuesday, 31 July 2018 09:07

PepsiCo gets court order to take down 'plastic' comments on Indian snack

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Kurkure: the Indian snack at the centre of a "plastic" storm. Kurkure: the Indian snack at the centre of a "plastic" storm. Supplied

The Indian arm of American multinational food, snack, and beverage corporation PepsiCo has obtained a court order that mandates the takedown of a mass of online material that makes jokes about its Indian corn snack, Kurkure, alleging that it contains plastic.

Indian digital and telecommunications news site MediaNama  reported that it had gotten hold of a copy of a Delhi High Court interim order obtained by PepsiCo India, mandating the deletion of posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

The site said the order covered 3412 Facebook links, 20244 Facebook posts, 242 YouTube videos, six Instagram links, and 562 tweets.

Kurkure contains rice meal, edible vegetable oil (palm oil), corn meal, gram meal, spices, sugar and other unspecified components.

But for some reason, jokes about it containing plastic have proliferated on social media.

PepsiCo India filed a civil defamation suit to get the references to plastic removed from the various social media sites. The High Court order, known as an Ashok Kumar order in India — the equivalent of a John Doe order in the US — instructs the sites to block all the posts mentioned in PepsioCo's petition, apart from "just exceptions".

The order will come up for hearing again on 14 November, MediaNama said. Pepsico has also sought damages of 2.1 crore Indian rupees (A$471,700).

MediaNama cited two cases of tweets which had been later taken down. "In February, the novelist Samit Basu joked about Kurkure’s taste on Twitter, saying, 'I’ve gone from having zero thoughts about Kurkure to complete and utter conviction that they are made entirely of plastic'.

"PepsiCo India responded to his tweet, saying 'We know you have quite the talent at fantasy writing!' Three months later, the company sued Twitter to take that tweet down, along with hundreds of others. This month, the Delhi High Court ordered that Twitter block those tweets," it said.

A second case concerned the current vice-president of the Internet, mobile and e-commerce council of the IT industry lobby group, NASSCOM, Prasanto Roy. He was reported to have said in a tweet "that a lot of people get news on WhatsApp. In that tweet, Roy imitated the kind of fake news forward that PepsiCo said was defaming its product: 'Did you HEAR the news?!! Kurkure has plastic! Coke melts teeth'.

"When PepsiCo’s Twitter handle for Kurkure responded saying that such rumours are false, Roy pointed out that he was merely satirising those tweets," MediaNama said. "That clarification doesn’t seem to have helped — Roy’s tweet has since been taken down by Twitter in India."

PepsiCo India told the website: "This step has been taken to protect our brand equity, a matter that we take very seriously at PepsiCo.

"We are working constantly with all the platforms, to collectively counter the issue of spread of defamatory and damaging content, following all procedural obligations to ensure compliance with the court order."

But it did not deal with MediaNama's queries which were:

  • Why did PepsiCo file this case?
  • Is this the first time PepsiCo has obtained a court order to remove discussion of its products online in India?
  • Has PepsiCo obtained, or sought to obtain, similar orders in other countries where it operates?
  • Was due diligence done by PepsiCo to ensure that humorous tweets that are discussing this myth in jest are not censored as a byproduct?

PepsiCo's petition and the court's interim order can be seen here.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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