* India threatens action against Twitter
* Government blocks access to 300 Web pages
* Foreign media organisations targeted
By Devidutta Tripathy and Satarupa Bhattacharjya
NEW DELHI, Aug 23 (Reuters) - The Indian government faced an
angry backlash from Twitter users on Thursday after ordering
Internet service providers to block about 20 accounts that
officials said had spread scare-mongering material that
threatened national security.
The backlash came as New Delhi turned up the heat on
Twitter, threatening "appropriate and suitable action" if it
failed to remove the accounts as soon as possible. Several
Indian newspapers said this could mean a total ban on access to
Twitter in India but government officials would not confirm to
Reuters that such a drastic step was being considered.
Twitter, which does not have an office in India, declined to
comment. There are about 16 million Twitter users in the South
The government has found itself on the defensive this week
over what critics see as a clumsy clampdown on social media
websites - including Google, YouTube and Facebook
- that has raised questions about freedom of information
in the world's largest democracy.
"Dear GOI (Government of India), Keep your Hands Off My
Internet. Else face protest" tweeted one user, @Old_Monk60.
India blocked access to more than 300 Web pages after
threatening mobile phone text messages and doctored website
images fuelled rumours that Muslims, a large minority in the
predominantly Hindu country, were planning revenge attacks for
violence in the northeastern state of Assam, where 80 people
have been killed and 300,000 have been displaced since July.
Fearing for their lives, tens of thousands of migrants fled
Mumbai, Bangalore and other cities last week. The exodus
highlighted underlying tensions in a country with a history of
ethnic and religious violence.
According to documents obtained by Reuters, the government
has targeted Indian journalists, Britain's Daily Telegraph, the
Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Al Jazeera television in
its clampdown on Internet postings it says could inflame
The directives to Internet service providers listed dozens
of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter pages. A random sampling of the
YouTube postings revealed genuine news footage spliced together
with fear-mongering propaganda.
INDIAN JOURNALISTS TARGETED
The government says Google and Facebook have largely
cooperated while Twitter has been much slower to respond.
"Every company, whether it's an entertainment company, or a
construction company, or a social media company, has to operate
within the laws of the given country," said Sachin Pilot,
minister of state in the Ministry of Communications.
Twitter has been instructed to remove 28 pages containing
"objectionable content," an interior ministry official said.
"If they do not remove the pages, the Indian government will
take appropriate and suitable action," he added.
The government has ordered Internet service providers to
block the Twitter accounts of veteran journalist Kanchan Gupta
and television anchor Shiv Aroor. Some appeared to have begun
complying with the order on Thursday as Twitter users reported
difficulties in accessing their pages.
"It is a political decision, because of my criticism of the
government," said Gupta, who was an official in the previous
government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
The government's actions triggered a storm of criticism from
Twitter users, with the hashtags #Emergency2012 and #GOIBlocks
among the top trending topics on Twitter in India on Thursday.
Some compared the situation with the state of emergency imposed
by the government in 1975, when some journalists were jailed.
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.
India's parliament last year passed a law that obliges
Internet companies to remove a range of objectionable content
when requested to do so, a move criticised at the time by rights
groups and social media companies.