India’s crackdown on social media platforms for hosting “inflammatory” content — following the violence in Assam and the exodus of northeastern people from several cities — seems to have been a little reckless.
The government’s order to internet service providers to block 310 webpages between August 18-21 goes beyond blocking doctored images and videos uploaded to incite passions. Instead, it seeks to block 16 Twitter handles, including those of VHP leader Pravin Togadia and two journalists and even reportage of sectarian violence in international and domestic news websites.
“Block TRUTH & there will be 1000M Togadias!” Togadia tweeted, as the virtual world erupted in protests.
The home ministry insisted it had not asked for individual Twitter handles to be blocked, only for removal of malicious content.
Earlier in the day, the micro-blogging site opened dialogue with the government but sought clarifications before taking a call on blocking content.
"Twitter has promised to cooperate on handles resembling the PMO's," said communications adviser to the PM Pankaj Pachouri, emphasising that the PMO's only demand is that Twitter handle the case in accordance with its rules.
Also on the government's block list are blogs in India and Pakistan that tried to educate web surfers about the morphed photos. One was apparently written by a government officer in Mumbai.
Critics slammed the government for its "ham-handed" and "artless" handling of the situation, which they said came after the morphed images and videos had already done damage.
The Bangalore-headquartered Centre for Internet & Society said the "goodness of the government's intentions seems unquestionable" but it appears to have gone overboard and not by the book.
"The blocking was done without due process of law," Pranesh Prakash at CIS observed. He argued that the government should have engaged with the social media platforms since a majority —217 out of 310 —of the block orders were aimed at Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.