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Govt in line of fire over web censorship

by Prasad Krishna last modified Aug 25, 2012 03:13 AM
Social media abuzz with allegations of government gagging free speech in the garb of curbing hate messages.
Govt in line of fire over web censorship

There was outrage on social media, especially on Twitter where #Emergency2012 and #GOIBlocks quickly became top trending topics on the micro-blogging website for India. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint


This article by Surabhi Agarwal was published in LiveMint on August 24, 2012. Pranesh Prakash is quoted.


The government is once again in the line of fire over web censorship, with allegations rampant on social media Thursday that it was gagging free speech in the garb of containing hate messages that had led to communal violence and a panic exodus by people from the north-eastern states in some cities.

According to a list first published on its website by The Economic Times, Twitter accounts of some journalists including Kanchan Gupta, a former columnist of the Pioneer newspaper, Shiv Aroor, deputy editor at the Headlines Today news channel, and those of some individuals associated with and sympathetic to right-wing causes have been blocked.

The block wasn’t in place for some of the accounts late Thursday, although this could have been because some internet service providers were slow to follow the government’s orders.

There was outrage on social media, especially on Twitter where #Emergency2012 and #GOIBlocks quickly became top trending topics on the micro-blogging website for India.

“Was it wrong to seek help of Indians for the victims of Assam Riots? Is it a crime in India if you help your fellow citizens in need?” tweeted Anil Kohli, whose account Twitanic is also on the list of blocked Twitter accounts.

Pravin Togadia, international working president of the right-wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad, tweeted: “Some say Gvt blocked my twitter account, some say this, some say that! It is my REAL twitter account. Block TRUTH & there will be 1000M Togadias!”

The government has issued four orders over the last one week to block over 300 web pages. According to a post by Pranesh Prakash of the Centre for Internet and Society, 33% of them were on Facebook, 28% on Google Inc.’s YouTube and around 10% on Twitter.com.

Prakash told Mint that there may be a case of excessive censorship in the damage-control exercise following the communal violence and the scaremongering that followed but the motives do not seem political. “Both Kanchan Gupta and Swapan Dasgupta seem to be having a right wing ideology, but while the former’s account is blocked the latter’s is not,” Prakash said. “The difference is on the kind of content which has been posted.”

While he would accuse the government of not taking sufficient care while drawing up the list, he couldn’t accuse it of trying to curb media freedom. “It is too far (fetched) an accusation and I am not making it.”

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