Two recent Twitter-related arrests have triggered concern among many Indian users of social media.
Ravi (one name), a small plastic packaging businessman in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, was arrested Tuesday for posting Tweets critical of Karti Chidambaram, son of India’s finance minister. In his Tweets, Ravi questioned the rise in Chidambaram’s wealth in recent years. Police said they received Chidambaram’s complaint about “offensive” Tweets that Ravi had posted on the micro-blogging site in the past year. He was later released on bail by a judge. Last week, an associate professor at a fashion studies college in Tamil Nadu, Saravana Kumar Perumal, was arrested for harassing a famous movie singer called Chinmayi.
India has more than 125 million Internet users and adds about 18 million new users every year, and is ranked as one of the fastest growing Internet markets in the world.
But the government and the active online community have been at loggerheads over where to draw a line on the issue of freedom of speech. The disagreements have been particularly animated because of an ongoing anti-corruption movement in India which relies heavily on the use of new media to enlist support.
Some Indians interviewed on television asked if they should now start consulting lawyers before they tweet their thoughts.
Muthu Kirshnan S tweeted: “There is no need for a law to oversee twitter and Facebook, a couple of cases like Karthi Chidambaram and chinmaye will do enough damage.”
Rajesh Pati tweeted: “Somebody got arrested for calling Karthi chidu a thief. Never knew its punishable to speak truth in land of Gandhi.”
In the past year, India’s government has tried to regulate social media like Facebook and Twitter for what they call defamatory content against top officials.
Last year, the government introduced new rules that asked Web sites and search engines to screen information before posting. Two months ago, the government shut down several Web sites, blaming them for stoking ethnic hate.