New Delhi: The government said it needed to improve the way in which it dealt with issues such as Internet hate messages besides blog posts and SMSes that seek to create panic so that it’s not accused of trying to gag free speech.
“We all have agreed that we need some combination of self-regulation and government interventions. But we need to do it in a proper way,” said department of telecom secretary R. Chandrasekhar, while addressing a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) conference on the issue of “legitimate restrictions on freedom of online speech”.
The Union government has been facing allegations of censorship after it sought to contain messages that led to communal violence and a panicexodus by people from the north-eastern states in some cities.
Last month, the government ordered the blocking of almost 310 web pages for content deemed to be attacking particular communities. 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.
Defending the government move, Gulshan Rai, chief of the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-in), said it was the first time that the emergency provision of the Information Technology Act 2008 had been exercised. Even though the list was not drawn up by his agency, due scrutiny was carried out before issuing orders to block the sites.
This came after allegations that government may have also blocked bona fide posts as it sought to block content related to the North-East.
Twitter accounts of some journalists and other individuals associated with and sympathetic to right-wing causes were blocked, according to a list published earlier by The Economic Times.
“This is certainly not the last time we are seeing such a situation, so meaningful ways to respond to such complex situations will have to be devised,” said Chandrasekhar.
He added that there was also a need to collaborate better with all stakeholders to devise not just defensive strategies during a crisis but also ways to contain its impact using the social media.
Ankhi Das, head of public policy at Facebook India, said that during the London riots of 2011, the UK government enlisted the support of social networking sites to dispel rumours.
“Social media can also be allies of the government at times like this,” she said.
Raman Jit Singh Cheema, a senior policy analyst at Google India, cited a similar example of authorities in Japan using such methods to send out correct information following the tsunami that hit the country in 2011.
“We need to collaborate on a continuing basis, so that when you are faced with such a crisis, you are able to deal with it,” said Chandrasekhar.
The government has been facing allegations of Internet censorship for over a year after minister for communication and information technology Kapil Sibal raised the issue of regulating social networking sites. They had allegedly not complied with the government’s demand that offensive content be removed.
Chandrasekhar said that processes should be clearer, more transparent and well-defined.
“These need to be brought out in the form of some kind of a standard operating procedure, so that they (stakeholders) are expected to know how to conduct themselves and how they can expect the government to deal if a contingency arises,” he said.