The following article was written for Niti Central. Reposting here for reference :)
1. I disagree with Kanchan Gupta, but I respect his right for free speech
2. Kanchan Gupta can get abusive, personal, but his free speech (not hate speech) cannot be stifled
3. The likes of "pro-Hindutva" journalists can dish up a lot of "warped logic" but that's no case for blocking them.
4. Oh my God! Shiv Aroor was blocked?? Amit Paranjape was blocked? Gosh, that's so unsettling!
5. It is ok to block/regulate/control abuse/bile/vile/venom when circumstances demand it.
I am not reproducing verbatim the above points, but those points pretty much sum up the gist of the "liberal" arguments made by some top notch "national" journos/newspapers/think tanks etc. For a moment, you would also think that this block was because the handles were “abusing” people.
From about a month, Assam has been burning. There have been riots that displaced 4 lakh people. More than a 100 people died. People continue to suffer till date; violence continues unabated till date; shockingly people still are being killed. While the Congress government in the state was busy doing nothing to stop this violence, rumours started flying thick and fast - in Pune first, Hyderabad next, Bangalore then, and finally in Chennai.
Folks from the North East who work in these places started getting SMSes that threatened them to leave the city for their own safety. Rumours spread fast, and people from NE started going back to their home states. Large scale "exodus" was happening and quite expectedly the "national media" came into the picture only when it happened in Bangalore. So desperate was the media to blame this on “social media” that they started including SMS in that too! Investigations also revealed that some websites from Pak are playing mischief and then social media websites like facebook, twitter, blogger, wordpress are being used to spread these false images.
Please note that none of these images were responsible for the violence in Assam. None of them were responsible for the "exodus". These images sparked rumours that led to a mini-riot in Mumbai - a riot in which the Amar Jawan Jyothi was attacked too. But facts rarely matter when there is an agenda at play! The agenda – start blaming social media. It is so full of hate, so full of losers and what not. They steered the debate towards hatred on social media.
And here's where our government came into the picture. It issued 4 orders, in which it asked for specific sites to be blocked). 15 twitter profiles were sought to be blocked (and continue to be blocked) – with no proper reasoning and explanation. If you see the narrative on the "national" media scene, you would think that only Kanchan Gupta, Shiv Aroor and Amit Paranjape were blocked. However, the block was not just about these three folks.
Quietly hidden away are these handles that were blocked too.
The handle "NorthEastBlog" and "Assam_News" just give you the happenings in the North East. The government does not want that to happen - you see anyone trying to debate that? Hastags related to the riots in assam, disturbances in the northeast have been blocked! This essentially means that the government does not want any kind of related information to be discussed. Now, do you feel that "outrageous" is a very small word to describe these actions by the government?
Twitter pages of individual users apart from the three journalists mentioned above were blocked – no reason given, no examples of “hate speech” that led to violence shown.
However, as our "national" media is always obssessed with personalities - what does it do? Deviates the debate - towards abuse, vitriol, civility etc. This was not even the reason why the handles and searches were blocked. None of the channels gave details about ALL handles that were blocked. None discussed the various search parameters that were blocked. None were outraged when the government tried to link "National Security" to handles without any evidence. They made this about people; they judged those who were blocked; and then (very sadly) tried to justify the blocking. No examples given, no questions asked.
Within a week, Indian TV media was succesfull deviating the assam riots debate to abuse and trolls on the internet. To paraphrase an earlier chain: Assam Riots --> SMS threat --> "Exodus" of NE from South --> Social Media impact --> Internet Hindus --> Abuse and Trolls. A chain only the Indian TV media can generate.