Violence in Assam and its after-effects in various States has again brought into focus the role of social networking sites in spreading rumours and fanning trouble. While SMS and MMS were widely used in spreading objectionable content in Assam and creating panic among people of the northeast in Bangalore and Hyderabad, posting of inflammatory matter on the Internet only aggravated the problem.

The demand is now being raised by politicians and civil society for monitoring of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and blogs and putting the onus on Internet service providers (ISPs) for ensuring that information technology rules are being strictly implemented.

Concerned at the repeated misuse of SMS and Internet, officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Communications and Information Technology have conferred on tackling the situation. The Communications Ministry officials have been asked to devise a way to stop at once circulation of objectionable SMS or content on the Internet in times of urgency.

The government is planning strict action against mobile service providers and ISPs who fail to comply with rules and regulations, a senior MHA official said.

Asked about the steps being taken to check flow of objectionable content on the Internet, Minister of State for Communications and IT Sachin Pilot told The Hindu : “Based on complaints regarding content that is inflammatory, hateful and inciting violence targeting the northeast community, the Department of IT has issued an advisory to all intermediaries in terms of provisions of IT Act and Rules to take action for disabling all such content on priority.”

Asserting that the Centre was against any kind of censorship of Internet, Mr. Pilot, however, said the government was taking steps to ensure that networking sites and blogs were not being misused for fuelling tension and spreading hatred in the country.

“The Internet has to be seen as a tool to boost growth and development and not as a medium to create unrest and disharmony in society…strict action would be taken against those found misusing the Internet while the ISPs have been asked to monitor content and immediately remove all sensitive items,” Mr. Pilot added.

Stating that ISPs would cooperate with the government on the issue, Internet Service Providers Association of India president Rajesh Chharia said they have issued an advisory to members to be vigilant and act swiftly in case any inflammatory or objectionable content is found posted.

Condemning those misusing the Internet, he said at a time when certain reforms were needed to promote the web to fuel growth, such negative developments only hindered efforts to bring in positive changes.

JD(U) for

temporary ban

Meanwhile, Janata Dal (United) chief Sharad Yadav has demanded temporary ban on social networking sites to check rumour mongering in view of the exodus of people hailing from the northeast from various parts of the country. On Friday, MPs, cutting across party lines, raised a similar demand in Parliament.