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India blocks websites & restricts SMS communications in wake of widespread hate speech

Indian Internet service providers have been asked to restrict access to certain websites and some mobile phone users have been blocked from sending SMS messages in bulk, after both channels were used to incite retaliation to bouts of local violence in the northeastern Assam state, PCWorld has reported.

At the government’s request, ISPs have blocked the public’s access to nearly 250 websites as mandated by their license rules, said Rajesh Chharia, president of Internet Service Providers Association of India.

In addition to the noted restrictions, some people have been charged by police with sending SMS messages threatening reprisals for recent violence between Muslims and indigenous groups in Assam, leading thousands of northeastern migrant workers to flee from the southern cities of Bangalore and Chennai out of fear of being targeted.

According to India’s Press Bureau, the country’s home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde accused “elements based in Pakistan” of taking advantage of social media technology to stir up anger among some Indian communities, a charge denied by Pakistani officials. There has been no evidence linking Pakistan to the content in question.

Social networks and media-sharing sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were also asked by India’s Ministry of IT and Communications to remove “inflammatory and hateful” content hosted on their websites.

“We comply with valid legal requests from authorities wherever possible, consistent with our longstanding policy," said Google, adding that it quickly removes prohibited content from YouTube.

India’s particular politics aside, the practice of blocking public access to Internet and mobile technologies has far-reaching implications, especially given the frequency with which governments across North Africa and the Middle East looked to enact blocks on mobile data and SMS messages to quell popular uprisings in those regions.