Centre for Internet & Society

The Indian government's attempts to block social media accounts and websites that it blames for spreading panic have been inept and possibly illegal, a top Internet expert said yesterday.

Published in the Gulf Daily News on August 25, 2012. Pranesh Prakash is quoted.

Earlier this month, thousands of people from the country's remote northeast began fleeing cities in southern and western India, as rumours swirled that they would be attacked in retaliation for ethnic violence against Muslims in their home state.

Last weekend, the government said the rumours were fed by gory images - said to be of murdered Muslims - that were actually manipulated photos of people killed in cyclones and earthquakes. Officials said the images were spread to sow fear of revenge attacks.

After that, the government began interfering with hundreds of websites, including some Twitter accounts, blogs and links to certain news stories. The government also ordered telephone companies to sharply restrict mass text messages.

It is unclear who has been spreading the inflammatory material. Experts say that despite the government's electronic interference, there are many ways to access the blocked sites.

"The government has gone overboard and many of its efforts are legally questionable," said Pranesh Prakash, who studies Internet governance and freedom of speech at The Center for Internet and Society, a research organisation in the southern city of Bangalore.