The government today confirmed that is has blocked some twitter handles (read here).
It is exceedingly strange that political parties and regimes wedded to the notion of individual liberty and freedom of speech across the free world are indulging in censorship and gagging dissent.
Three examples stand out. The Indian government –under the guise of maintaining law and order — has banned some twitter accounts. The ostensible reason is to avoid social media being used to fan communal hatred, especially in the wake of the recent violence in Assam. However, among the twitter handles being banned are also included some which belong to spoof artists — those who try to impersonate the prime minister’s official twitter feed. This was highly unavoidable as it shows the government bloated up with a sense of self-importance. Finally, and this is dangerous, the list also includes some commentators and right-wing sympathisers.
I feel we are treading treacherous territory here even if this blogger isn’t a right-wing supporter. If the right wing nutcase is using his/her social media account to spread hatred and advocate communal violence, then there might even be some justification for the government’s actions. But, the notion of a democratically elected government muffling free speech is downright noxious. The reason is today it might be right-wing loonies, but tomorrow it could be anybody. What is to stop the government or its factotums, in a fit of righteous conceit, to start viewing any protest or dissent as a threat to law and order? Once you start going down that path, it’s actually a very slippery slope.
The news agencies, a few days ago, filed an interesting story on what the government is doing to keep its babus away from social media. The story (headlined “Govt cracks whip, orders babus not to post ‘unverified’ facts on Facebook, Twitter” in Indian Express) can be read here. The attempt again is to ensure that bureaucrats and officers do not use social media to air their views, which could well turn out to be anti-thetical to the government’s standpoint. Will they then stop the officer’s spouse or even daughter/son from airing their opinion? Where does it stop?
Finally, US president Barack Obama’s office recently urged the Indian government not to curb internet freedom, especially in the social media space (read here). This issue came up at a routine briefing conducted by the US State Department. However, the US State Department’s concern and comments drew some acerbic comments from journalists and observers. The US has been incredibly thin-skinned while dealing with the transparency of the internet, case in point being the persecution of Julian Assange and Wikileaks.
Meanwhile, an image of a poster is being shared around on Facebook, which reads as follows: “If Govt limits the SMS because it’s being misused for spreading rumours, can we stop paying taxes as our money is being misused for corruption?” Now, how will that be treated? Seditious? Disruptive? Communal?