Twitter has told the government that it needs more time to block 28 pages, which allegedly contain communally sensitive material. The micro-blogging site has written to the Department of Information and Technology to state that it's having technical difficulties in disabling these pages.
Twitter users spent the day today protesting against a government directive sent to Internet Service Providers, asking them to block the accounts of a few journalists, and Web pages of news organizations like Al Jazeera, Britain's Daily Telegraph, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
As hashtags #Emergency2012 and #GOIBlocks became trending topics, the government, in what appeared to be damage control, said the list of pages to be blocked that was leaked online was not complete. The directive asks Internet Service Providers to block only the urls or web-pages specified, and not the main websites.
"It is a political decision, because of my criticism of the government," said Kanchan Gupta, one of the journalists targeted, who was an official in the previous government led by the Opposition BJP. Some Twitter users complained of difficulty in accessing their pages, though the journalists were able to tweet for large parts of the day because the ISPs blocked their profile pages, not the actual accounts, which only Twitter can disable. That meant that those targeted could post tweets that could be seen by their followers.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has warned Twitter of serious consequences if its orders are not followed. Twitter has around 16 million accounts in India.
Earlier this month, doctored photos and videos were circulated to falsely depict atrocities against Muslims in Myanmar and Assam. Images of people who died in natural disasters like earthquakes were represented as victims of ethnic violence. The campaign urged reprisal. Text messages sent to migrants from the North East in cities like Bangalore and Pune saw thousands of people boarding special trains to their home states. The government has ordered Facebook, Google and others to block 310 web pages.
The Centre for Internet and Society, which analysed the 300 banning orders, found that they contained "numerous mistakes and inconsistencies". Some of the banned websites belonged to people trying to debunk the rumours, for example, it said.
"This isn't about political censorship. This is about the government not knowing how to do online regulation properly," said CIS programme manager Pranesh Prakash.
Twitter has also been asked to block six accounts that masquerade as the official account of the Prime Minister's Office.
"Twitter has agreed to block the six fake PM accounts. They responded to our complaint saying we need to follow an internal channel to lodge a formal complaint in the matter," the Prime Minister's communications adviser, Pankaj Pachauri, told IANS.
"We have forwarded their communication to the ministry of communications and IT for necessary action," Mr Pachauri said. "We had earlier complained through email to the six fake twitter accounts individually," he added.
In January this year, Twitter had announced its ability to block content in a country but making it available in other parts of the world. It had also stressed that "if and when we are required to withhold a tweet in a specific country, we will attempt to let the user know, and we will clearly mark when the content has been withheld."
Internet giants like Facebook and Google have been fighting criminal and civil charges in Delhi courts where they have been accused of allowing content that provokes communal hatred. The government has said that often, social networking sites are too slow to respond to requests asking for offensive material to be deleted.(With inputs from Reuters)