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India Defends Moves Against Social Media

The government in India is defending itself against charges of Internet censorship. The move comes after the government last week asked companies like Facebook and Twitter to block more than three hundred websites. Officials accused the websites of posting edited images and videos of earthquake victims. They said the websites falsely claimed that the images were Muslim victims caught in recent ethnic conflict in India's northeastern Assam state and Burma.

A number of the images were reportedly uploaded from Pakistan. Officials said the panic that resulted caused thousands of Hindu immigrants to flee the area. They feared that Muslims would answer the false reports with attacks of their own. Lawyer Pawan Duggal says this is the first time Internet and mobile-phone technology have been used to create fear in a community. He says India has to make cyber security the top concern for the nation. "Unfortunately, India does not even have a national cyber-security policy," he says. And there is no plan, should this kind of emergency happen again.

Pawan Duggal also thinks India needs an army of its own cyber warriors.On Friday, India's Communication and Information Technology Minister dismissed claims that the government is trying to censor social media. But he did say misuse of social media has to be stopped. Pranesh Prakash is with the Center for Internet and Society based in Bangalore. He says some of the web pages that have been blocked include official news websites. He says the current case appears to call for some action. But he thinks the government has gone too far. He says the effort is limiting good news reporting.

Pranesh Prakash also says some of the websites were uploaded by people trying to let others know that the images were false. The government in India has called on social media companies to come up with a plan to keep offensive material off the web. Last year, it passed a law that requires companies to remove so-called "objectionable content" when requested to do so. A Google report says that, last year, India topped the list of countries that make such requests. Supporters of online freedom have expressed concern that India may be restricting use of the Web. About 100 million people in India use the Internet -- that is third most in the world.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Laurel Bowman. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 27Aug2012)