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Ayodhya trending on Twitter sparks censorship concerns

by Prasad Krishna last modified Dec 12, 2012 10:38 AM
On the 20th anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, the ShauryaDiwas, Ayodhya and Babri Masjid hashtags were trending on Twitter all day, with almost 2,500 messages sent over 48 hours.

Surabhi Agarwal's article was published in LiveMint on December 6, 2012. Sunil Abraham is quoted.

The tag ShauryaDiwas was used by supporters of the demolition and was used in half the total number of tweets.

Experts said the public display of extreme views on a social networking platform has the potential to create social unrest, leaving the government with few options but to regulate content, in turn fuelling the Internet censorship debate further.

A senior government official said that in a situation in which there are serious national security implications, the government has no option but to "block content" in order to stop communal sentiment from flaring up.

According to social web analytics firm Social Hues, the tweets reached an audience of 456,000 followers. However, according to Vinita Ananth, chief executive of Social Hues, there were also messages that "condemned the call for ShauryaDiwas” tagging it ShameDiwas. "New platforms like Twitter are providing real-time feedback on public sentiment, which is unprecedented."

Ashis Nandy, political and social analyst, said that even though very few Indians are on platforms such as Twitter, communications over them give a hint of what a certain section of the society is thinking about.

"It is a small representation of the middle class, which is driven by ideology and some of the people with extreme opinions may also belong to this group, so perhaps it could have some security implications," he said.

Fringe groups such as those above tend to take extreme positions to get attention, said Sunil Abraham, executive director of Bangalore-based research organization, the Centre for Internet and Society.

Having learnt their lessons after the recent Assam-related panic, intelligence agencies are now keeping a close watch on the Internet, another government official said.

"If necessary, posts will be removed through legitimate ways," the official said, adding that a debate was underway about how to strike a balance between freedom of speech and the lawful requirement of agencies. "Mischief by a few people creates nuisance in society. The government is now looking for ways through which it can regionally block or remove inflammatory tweets. We don’t want to curb freedom of speech and the government doesn’t have any such intentions either," the official said.

Hate messages on social media had sparked a panic exodus of people from the north-east from cities such as Bangalore, Pune and Chennai in August.

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