Spike in cases of social media ‘abuse’: Officials
In the wake of the India-China military standoff at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the ministry of electronics and information technology has seen a sharp rise in the number of cases of “abuse of social media”.
According to officials familiar with the matter, the number of social media accounts, pages and websites that have been blocked have gone up from 200-250 per month last year to nearly 500 cases in September this year. The government, in response to an unstarred question in Parliament last month, had said that it addressed 3,635 such cases in 2019.
“We were blocking nearly 200-250 accounts, pages, websites on social media per month last year,” an official said on the condition of anonymity. “This year the number went up from approximately 250 in June, to 300 in July, 400 in August and say nearly 500 in September. These figures are indicative and dynamic, they change every day.”
The official, however, added that the exact number of cases the ministry had tackled was confidential and could not be disclosed. “The trend has definitely been that the number of cases we are tackling has increased,” the official said.
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The ministry takes down such information from the internet when it is in violation of Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, which empowers the government to block any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state, friendly relations with other countries or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to such matters.
The ministry has also taken down over 200 mobile applications, mostly of Chinese origin, in the wake of the tensions between the two countries between July and September. Electronics and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had called the decision to block the applications, including popular video-streaming app TikTok and game PUB-G, a “digital strike”.
Friction has increased between India and China amid the military standoff in the Ladakh sector of the LAC, which led to a skirmish on June 15 that left 20 Indian soldiers dead besides an unspecified number of Chinese casualties. There have been multiple rounds of talks between high-ranking officials from India and China to resolve the standoff. The next round of military talks is scheduled for Monday. “These are regular cleanups the ministry does to ensure sanitation of cyber space,” said a second official.
Hindustan Times on September 21 reported that the ministry had told Parliament that it had taken down 3,635 websites/pages/accounts on social media in 2019 for violating the Information Technology Act.
The answer was given in response to an unstarred question about the ministry’s regulation of social media tabled in Parliament, in which the ministry added that 1,385 pages were blocked in 2017 and 2,799 were blocked in 2018.
“With a borderless cyberspace coupled with the possibility of instant communication and anonymity, the potential for misuse of cyberspace and social media platforms for criminal activities is a global issue,” the ministry had said in its response.
“In line with increase of usage of Internet as also the growth of social media platforms, there are increasing number of incidents of reporting of such content having potential to incite violence and hatred. Government has a well-defined system of reporting and blocking for public access within the framework of section 69A of the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 and the Rules thereunder,” it added. Social media platforms are also expected to remove any unlawful content relatable to Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India as and when brought to their knowledge either through a court order or through a notice by appropriate government or its agency.
“The rise in the number of blocked websites as per data side trends has been on the rise year on year. This is problematic and troubling as the legal process for it is secretive and results in an injury to peoples right to access public information,” said Apar Gupta, trustee of the Internet Freedom Foundation.