Ever since the news broke mid-week that some genuine Twitter accounts and six spoof accounts were blocked, the social networking platform has been in a tizzy.
Hashtags like #GOIblocks and variations on the same theme began “trending” and the twitterati, functioning like a virtual democracy, have been bombarding the world in real time with posts about the issue. 16 accounts of the 15 million twitter users in India, among them those of a few journalists, spoof accounts like @PM0India, a right-wing parody of @PMOIndia, the official twitter account of the Prime Minister’s office, and a few anonymous accounts like Barbarian Indian (@barbarindian) and Dosabandit (@dosabandit) were blocked.
While Narendra Modi turned his twitter display picture black in solidarity with the idea of freedom of speech (and was promptly termed a hypocrite with many like @JagPaws, who has 641 followers, tweeting, “Whoa!! Is he supporting Jihadi sites?”), Pankaj Pachauri, (49,827 followers) Communications Adviser to the Prime Minister’s office, has put up twitter rules and the National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon’s ominously pro-surveillance keynote address at the release of the IDSA report on “India’s Cyber Security Challenge”.
Many like Nitin Pai @acorn, with 16,988 followers, founder of Takshashila Institute, a public policy think tank, tweeted that “under extraordinary circumstances, the govt must do whatever it can under the constitution to prevent loss of life” and added that targeted and temporary blocks of sites, facebook pages and twitter handles that spewed hate were acceptable. Others like film maker Harini Calamur (@calamur) (11,277 followers) who says she is against censorship tweeted that “Blocking internet handles & sites is silly” and “the Govt’s job is to uphold the constitution & protect our fundamental rights. Not make value judgements.” Much of the debate has led to a genuine exchange, sometimes making comrades of people from opposing camps. Kanchan Gupta, a journalist known for his pro-Hindutva views, whose twitter handle @KanchanGupta (26,424 followers) was among those blocked, accepted on TV that scores of “people from all communities” many of whom “disagreed violently” with him had extended their support on twitter.
Others like writer Shivam Vij (@Dilidurast), who has 3,296 followers, whom Hindutvawadis has often branded ‘pseudo sickular’, surprised baiters by speaking against the ban.
Many were strident in their criticism of the arbitrary nature of the blocks and tweeted that it was indicative of authoritarianism. “Internet blocks in India have been increasing in frequency&intensity. I wouldn't put this down to knee-jerk/foolishness.There is *intent*,” tweeted Nikhil Pahwa (@nixxin), founder and editor of @medianama. Others like business journalist Samidha Sharma @samidhas worried that the government’s frequent attacks on freedom of expression shows that it is “following china in all the wrong things”.
While Pranesh Prakash (@pranesh_prakash) of the Centre for Internet and Society tweeted, “They've blocked sites from all parts of the spectrum: Muslim right-wing, Hindu right-wing, neutral news sites, etc. No politics”, many others saw the move as a “self-serving” one. “Dear GoI: why not be honest enough to say that this web censorship has NOTHING to do with security+ all to do with your own arrogance” tweeted Sunny Singh (@sunnysingh_nw3).