Centre for Internet & Society

The government stepped up its efforts to stop what it feels is an online campaign of misinformation and rumour mongering in the wake of lower Assam riots and ordered blocking of 16 Twitter accounts, including two belonging to journalists, considered sympathetic to the right in India.

Published in the Times of India on August 24, 2012. Pranesh Prakash is quoted.

The department of telecommunications (DoT) ordered blocking of the accounts on August 20. The blocked accounts include those maintained by a columnist and a journalist working for a TV channel. Twitter accounts @sanghparivar, @drpraveentogadia and @i_panchajanya are also mentioned.

The 16 Twitter accounts are part of a list containing over 300 specific URLs that internet service providers (ISPs) in India have been told to block. The list is dominated by URLs belonging to Facebook and Youtube. Indian government allegedly found 102 URLs on Facebook and 85 URLs on YouTube where communally sensitive content was posted. According to a blogpost at Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), a non-profit organization that got hold of the list on Wednesday, almost "all of the blocked items have content that are related to communal issues and rioting".

At the same time, Pranesh Paraksh, a CIS official, noted on the blog that it was unclear if the government exercised its powers responsibly in this case. "The blocking of many of the items on the list are legally questionable and morally indefensible, even while a large number of the items ought to be removed," he wrote.

According to the leaked list, Indian government also blocked 30 Twitter URLs, 3 Wikipedia URLs, 11 Blogger URLs and 8 Wordpress URLs. Some URLs belong to Pakistani websites. The list also contained URLs belonging to several mainstream media websites, including The Telegraph and Al Jazeera.

The blocking of Twitter accounts was partial due to technical challenges. The accounts have been blocked with the help of ISPs and not Twitter. Accessing them from India shows web users a message, saying "This website/URL has been blocked until further notice either pursuant to Court orders or on the Directions issued by the Department of Telecommunications". Also, the block works only if the accounts are accessed using HTTP and not HTTPS protocol. Twitter allows users to force HTTPS, which is a secure protocol and doesn't let ISPs see the content that a user is accessing.

Due to the partial block, accounts remained active. When Nirupama Rao, India's ambassador to the US, talked on Twitter about a discussion on a news channel on the subject of social media and government's current policy, one of the "blocked" accounts tweeted back to her saying, "@NMenonRao Is that why UPA Govt has blocked my Twitter handle? Is that the reason? A reply would help." Following the Twitter profile ban, which was reported around midnight on Wednesday, several Twitter users in India started hashtag #Emergency2012. A few hours later, #Emergency2012 and #GOIBlocks were among the top trending topics on Twitter for India.