India faces Twitter backlash

Updated: 2012-08-24 20:49


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NEW DELHI - 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 Asian country.

"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 communal tensions.

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.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington stood ready to consult with US companies as they discuss the issue with the Indian government, although it was not now directly involved.

Micro-blogging site Twitter on Friday suspended India's junior Communications and Information Technology Minister Milind Deora's account.

Deora's account was using "@milinddeora" as ID. It now says: " Hold up! Sorry the profile you are trying to view has been suspended."

Twitter has not yet clarified the reason why Deora's acount was suspended even though his account clearly mentions that he is an Indian Minister.