* Govt official threatens legal action
* Google, Facebook say cooperating with Indian authorities
* Blocking access to websites a temporary fix, says expert
(Adds details, reaction from Google, Facebook, quotes)
By Devidutta Tripathy and Annie Banerji
NEW DELHI, Aug 21 India pressed social media
websites including Facebook and Twitter on Tuesday to remove
"inflammatory" content it said helped spread rumours that caused
an exodus of migrants from some Indian cities last week.
The government said in a statement it had already blocked
access to 245 web pages it said contained doctored videos and
images, and the telecommunications secretary, R Chandrashekhar,
threatened legal action against the websites if they did not
fully comply with the requests to take down the offending pages.
Chandrashekhar told CNN-IBN television that Google
and Facebook had largely complied with the government's
requests while the response from Twitter had been "extremely
poor", though he added that this "may be in part because they
don't have an office in India".
Twitter was not immediately available for comment.
"A lot of inflammatory and harmful content/information has
been found to be appearing on the social networking sites hosted
outside the country," the government statement said.
The government met representatives of social media sites on
Friday to push its case, it said.
The crackdown will likely rekindle a debate on freedom of
speech and censorship of the Internet in the world's largest
Media group Reporters Without Borders said in March that
India was increasing pressure on Internet service providers to
supply users' personal data. Google says that between July and
December 2011 there was a 49 percent jump in requests from India
for content to be removed from its services, compared to the
previous six-month period.
In a move that will likely add to their concerns, the
government on Tuesday blocked a number of Twitter accounts that
spoof the prime minister, local media reported.
"The government is for free information. There is no
question of anything being censored here. But that does not mean
there are not limitations," a senior official in the Ministry of
Home Affairs said, adding that authorities were trying to
identify those responsible for posting the inflammatory
Thousands of students and workers from India's northeast
fled Mumbai, Bangalore and other cities last week fearing
retaliation for violence against Muslims in the remote
tea-growing state of Assam after threatening mobile phone text
messages and website images sowed panic.
Clashes between indigenous people in Assam and Muslim
settlers from neighbouring Bangladesh have killed nearly 80
people and displaced some 300,000 since July.
INDIA BLAMES PAKISTAN
A cyber law expert said blocking web pages was "like putting
a band-aid on a leaking roof". "It's a strategy that is doomed
to failure from the word go. There are so many indirect ways to
access the Net," said Pavan Duggal.
India has not released details of the blocked pages but said
in a statement that "international social networking sites" had
indicated that much of the content had been uploaded from
neighbouring Pakistan, a long-time foe with which it has fought
An industry executive, who did not wish to be named, said
companies "cannot share such information with the government".
"It's beyond their jurisdiction. This is an international
issue, which the government is well aware of," said the
Google and Facebook said they were cooperating with the
"We have received requests from Indian authorities and
agencies and are working through those requests and responding
to the agencies," Facebook said in a statement released by their
Google has accepted the government's request to take down
some content, while discussions are continuing on other
requests, said a source with knowledge of the developments.
"We understand the gravity of the situation, strongly
condemn acts of violence and continue to work closely with
relevant authorities," Google spokeswoman Paroma Roy Chowdhury
said in a statement.
Media reports said many of those panicked by the
fear-mongering text messages and Internet postings have begun
returning home this week.
(Additional reporting By Ross Colvin and Satarupa Bhattacharjya
in New Delhi and Harichandan Arakali in Bangalore; Writing by
Ross Colvin; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)