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Chattisgarh shuts down internet in three districts amidst communal tensions

Is there another way to curb hateful social media posts that doesn’t involve snapping internet services? There’s no short answer.

The Chattisgarh government has suspended internet services in three districts after communal violence broke out in the Kawardha district on October 5, the Times of India has reported. Police officials in the state confirmed to MediaNama that internet services are currently suspended in the Kawardha and Rajnandgaon districts. But the restriction of internet services in Bemetra hasn’t been independently verified.

Internet suspension has unofficially become standard operating procedure during public unrest or violence in India. Increasingly, state and central government bodies are relying on internet suspensions, creating communication blackouts in conflict-ridden areas.

Why was the Internet snapped in 3 districts of Chattisgarh?

Communal tensions began in Kawardha on October 5 over two flags, one saffron and the other green, and quickly escalated into violence and damage to property. Chattisgarh’s Director General of Police told Hindustan Times:

On Tuesday, a protest was called by a right-wing organisation turned violent when the protesters entered the areas dominated by the other community. The situation is under control and curfew has been imposed. A few people including some police personnel sustained minor injuries but they are stable. — Director General of Police DM Awasthi quoted by HT.

The report by the Times of India claimed that the shutdown was caused to curb hateful social media content, but police officials refused to confirm this fact. MediaNama could not find any public order by the Chattisgarh government regarding the Internet shutdown.

Violation of Supreme Court judgement: Last year, the Supreme Court judgement in the case of Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India laid down that state governments must make orders regarding internet shutdowns publicly available. The Chattisgarh government’s non-compliance comes after the order for a recent internet shutdown in the Lakhimpur-Kheri district, Uttar Pradesh was also not made public.

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Aren’t there other ways of curbing hateful social media posts?

In its judgement, the Supreme Court also laid down that internet shutdowns were only to be used if they were necessary and unavoidable. That raises the question – Doesn’t India have more appropriate measures to bring rogue social media content under control? In February 2021, the government released the IT Rules, which set stringent timelines for social media platforms to take down content that violates Indian law.

According to the rules, social media intermediaries must take down objectionable content, which includes:

defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, invasive of another‘s privacy, including bodily privacy, insulting or harassing on the basis of gender, libellous, racially or ethnically objectionable, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise inconsistent with or contrary to the laws in force – IT Rules 2021 (emphasis added)

In case such content is uploaded, social media platforms must take it down as soon as possible, and no later than 36 hours of getting an order from a court or government agency, the IT Rules mandate.

The constitutionality of the IT Rules, including clauses that mandate such takedowns, is currently being debated in various courts across the country. Even while they are in effect, however, government authorities are still resorting to internet shutdowns to curb hateful social media content, raising serious doubts about the effectiveness of the rules.

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Written By

Reporter at MediaNama. Email: nishant@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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