Moving to contain transmission of “objectionable contents to spread disaffection amongst the public at large” and “inciting them to commit various offences”, the J&K government decided Wednesday to block 22 social networking sites including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube across the Valley for “one month or till further orders, whichever is earlier… in the interest of maintenance of public order”.
The decision to block social networking sites was taken a day after Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti chaired a meeting of the Unified Command Headquarters in Srinagar. Days earlier, the government had blocked 3G and 4G services on Internet mobile.
Sources said that at the UCH meeting Tuesday, several officials asked the government to block social networking sites, pointing out that these were being used to upload videos and photographs of the current unrest in the Valley.
The order to block the sites was issued by R K Goyal, Principal Secretary in the Home department. According to the order, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, QQ, WeChat, Qzone, Tumblr, Google+, Baidu, Skype, Viber, Line, Snapchat, Pinterest, Telegram, Reddit, Snapfish, YouTube (upload), Vine, Xanga, Buzznet and Flickr will be blocked for “one month or till further orders”.
“On careful examination of all relevant factors, it is observed that the use of social media platforms which are being used by anti-national and anti-social elements by transmitting inflammatory messages in various forms are immediately required to be regulated/curbed,’’ the order stated.
The order cited Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act which “confers powers upon the Central government or the state government to take possession of license telegraphs and order stoppage of transmission or interception or detention of messages”.
The government directed “all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that any message or class of message to or from any person or class of persons relating to any subject or any pictorial content through the following social networking sites shall not be transmitted in the Kashmir Valley, with immediate effect, for period of one month or till further orders, whichever is earlier”.
The order stated that “as per available inputs, over a period of time, a progressively increasing trend has been witnessed in regard to misuse of social media like Facebook, Twitter etc by the elements inimical to public order and tranquility, thereby impinging on public safety, particularly in the Kashmir Valley”.
“It has further been observed that such elements are transmitting objectionable contents to spread disaffection amongst the public at large in Kashmir Valley against the state administration and the security forces with a view to inciting them to commit various offences at a large scale, cause damage to life and property and disturb peace and tranquility.”
“It was also observed during law and order disturbances of 2016 in the Kashmir Valley that anti-national and subversive elements, inter alia, extensively misused social media sites and instant messaging services for vitiating peace and instigating violence, which caused large-scale damage to life and property,” the order stated, adding that “anti-national and inimical elements largely succeed transmitting unverified objectionable and inflammatory material/content through the medium of these social networking sites,” the order stated.
The opposition National Conference slammed the government for banning social media in Kashmir. Farooq Abdullah, NC patron and Srinagar MP, said: “The continued blockade of Internet will seriously affect our businesses, especially youth-oriented new start-ups in the ecommerce sector that depend primarily on Internet accessibility and penetration. This will in turn lead to an increase in unemployment as the private sector, especially the tourism sector, will be severely hit. Using such measures to suppress dissent against a deeply unpopular government is as futile an exercise as that government continuing to be in power despite being rejected by the people of the state.”
Abdul Hamid, owner of an automobile company, said: “My entire business is done via WhatsApp and other social networking sites. This decision will drastically impact my business. This also reflects the frustration of the government.’’
A Facebook user posted: “I am supposed to face a Skype interview to attend one month summer school in Istanbul Turkey. Democratic process of engagement.’’