India's government is blocking up to 250 web sites and social media accounts as part of on-going efforts to arrest the spread of damaging rumours which it believes are designed to incite sectarian violence.
Following violent clashes in Assam over the past month between ethnic Bodos and immigrant Muslims, rumours began to spread via bulk SMS messages last week of reprisals against north-east Indians migrants living in cities such as Bangalore, Mumbai and Pune.
This sparked a mass exodus of these communities and a blanket ban on bulk SMS messages by the government.
It has now emerged that similar rumour-mongering has been taking place on the web, with doctored videos and images being spread, designed to spark violent Muslim reprisals and fear among north-easterners.
The government has responded swiftly by blocking 130 of the offending sites and planning to do the same to over 100 more, although it is having more difficulty in taking action against individual social media accounts registered outside the country, according to the local Tamil News Network (TNN).
The Indian authorities are now seeking intervention from the US Department of Homeland Security and other agencies after social networking sites such as Facebook apparently said they were reluctant to take action on content uploaded by users outside of India.
Reports from India suggest the campaign of fear is being spread by Pakistani hard-liners, although this has yet to be substantiated.
“I was told by India’s home minister that they have information about the situation in Assam that the SMS creating panic were sent from Pakistan,” Pakistan home minister Rehman Malik told reporters.
“I told him that at the official level we have no such information and that if India has any such information stating that these messages creating panic and migration to Assam were sent from Pakistan then we will definitely investigate the matter.”
If true, this is by no means the first time the rival nations have clashed in cyber space - hacktivists from both sides are periodically responsible for web site defacement and DDoS campaigns.
According to the local CERT, there have been over 7,000 instances of web defacements for .in domains so far this year and almost the same number for .com domains in the region. ®