Mumbai Police has blocked over 650 posts and pages “on a popular social networking site” for allegedly uploading the controversial cartoons featured in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, reports The Hindustan Times. Mumbai police spokesperson Dhananjay Kulkarni told the publication that they are blocking every controversial post that “they come across”.
What’s particularly worrying though is that Kulkarni says they are in “constant touch with the authorities managing the servers of a popular USA-based networking site to immediately block such controversial posts and provide us with IP address of the account holders”. It’s currently not clear as to which site is Kulkarni referring, but it does raise serious privacy concerns for users in the country.
Citing sources, the report also says that Mumbai Police’s social media lab was directed to search through various handles and posts to find those putting up these controversial cartoons, following the Charlie Hebdo attack earlier this week.
Censoring the web
This development comes at a time when blocking websites without providing a reason has become the norm rather than an exception and there’s been a significant increase in the government actions to censor the web.
Police departments are also issuing warnings or even arresting users over sharing or even “liking” objectionable content on the Internet. In June last year, we witnessed two incidents of arrest: an MBA student was arrested for allegedly sending an “offensive message” on Facebook-owned WhatsApp while another person in Mumbai was arrested for posting on the Goa+ Facebook Group, that if elected to power, Modi would unleash a ‘holocaust’. (Also read: On 66A, “Palghar was not an abuse of power. The law itself is abusive”; Notes from the Supreme Court)
— Saskia Jungnikl-Gossy (@sjungnikl) January 7, 2015
The Karnataka Government had also passed a legislature in August last year, that allows the authorities to arrest a person even before he/she has committed an offence under the IT Act (Read: You could be labelled a ‘goonda’ in the eyes of the State – Bangalore Mirror).
Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi’s arrest: This incident also reminds us of the arrest of the Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi who was arrested on sedition charges in September 2012, for displaying allegedly offensive cartoons at a Jan Lokpal agitation in Mumbai in December 2011 and on his website, CartoonsagainstCorruption.com. He was released from jail three days later.
IN MEMORY OF MY COLLEAGUES AND FRIENDS FROM CHARLIE HEBDO, a cartoon for the International New York Times pic.twitter.com/2v21S7ZmGJ
— Chappatte Cartoons (@PatChappatte) January 7, 2015
Lack of transparency from social networking sites
There is also the issue of lack of transparency from social networking sites regarding these blocks. Commenting on the Charlie Hebdo attack, Facebook co-founder & CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that:
Facebook has always been a place where people across the world share their views and ideas. We follow the laws in each country, but we never let one country or group of people dictate what people can share across the world. I’m committed to building a service where you can speak freely without fear of violence.
However, the company doesn’t provide any information on why a specific content or a specific page is blocked in the country, although it reinstates pages when there is a public outcry as we saw in the instance of Kiss of love protests.
Similarly, Twitter has also blocked several accounts in the past, but hasn’t provided any reason for these blocks. We feel these companies should work on increasing their transparency on these issues. People need to know what was blocked, why it has been blocked, who has taken the decision to block it, and if it is my page or account, what is the process of getting the block removed.