WASHINGTON: The United States has urged New Delhi to pull off the tough task of maintaining law and order while at the same time ensuring "full freedom of the Internet," where profligate abuse of social media sites to spread rumors has been blamed for panic migrations in India.
US officials on Monday called on New Delhi to maintain Internet freedom in keeping with India's own commitment to human rights and rule of law, while offering to "consult" with social media companies to defuse the imbroglio over inflammatory postings (which caused panic exodus of North eastern Indians) if the Indian government requested such mediation. New Delhi is bearing down on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to clean up what it regards as hateful postings.
But the Obama administration came down on the side of free speech when the subject of the Indian government's run-in with social media companies surfaced at the state department briefing. That led to some tart observations from journalists over Washington's own crackdown on Wikileaks, an issue the administration spokesperson maintained had to do with compromise of classified US government information rather than freedom of the internet.
Still, remarks at the briefing gave the impression that Washington was not entirely convinced by New Delhi bearing down on social media companies, although the lecture on internet freedom was laced with an understanding of the government's need to maintain law and order.
"We are always on the side of full freedom of the internet," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, cautiously adding, "But as the Indian government continues to investigate these instances and preserve security, we also always urge the government to maintain its own commitment to human rights, fundamental freedoms, rule of law."
Asked if the Indian government has sought US intervention in its dialogue with social media companies, Nuland said the US maintained "open lines to our own companies in India, as we do around the world, and we are obviously open to consultation with them if they need it from us."
Nuland said Washington has seen reports of northeastern Indians' panicky migration due to concerns about personal safety. The Indian authorities had called an investigation of some of the sources of the rumors that have caused people to start to move and "so we are going to obviously watch and see how that process goes forward." She did not comment on reports of Indian authorities tracing the origin of the inflammatory messages to Pakistan.
New Delhi's run-in with the social media companies has attracted wide attention among the US digerati where India's ascent on the social media ladder is keenly watched. Although less than ten per cent of the country's 1.2 billion population use the Internet regularly, India is poised to be the second largest social media community in the world after the US. Last year, India had an estimated 46 million users of one of the most popular social media sites, a 132 per cent growth over 2010.
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