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 that such a drastic step was being considered.
There are about 16 million Twitter users in the South Asian country.
The government has found itself on the defensive this week over what critics see as a clumsy clampdown on social media Web sites — 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 cellphone text messages and doctored Web site images fuelled rumors 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 last month.
According to documents, the government has targeted Indian journalists, Britain’s Daily Telegraph, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and al-Jazeera TV 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.
The government says Google and Facebook have largely cooperated, while Twitter has been much slower to respond.
The government has ordered Internet service providers to block the Twitter accounts of journalist Kanchan Gupta and TV anchor Shiv Aroor. Some appeared to have begun complying on Thursday as Twitter users reported difficulties in accessing their pages.