UPDATE, April 4 2019: According to a recent report from Indian news agency IANS, users in Delhi, Pune, and Mumbai are now able to open, log into and create new accounts on Reddit and Telegram.
On Thursday 14 March reports began to emerge from internet users in India claiming they were no longer able to access content aggregation site Reddit. This isn’t due to a server outage or similar technical issue, but several social media posts suggest that telecoms providers and ISPs are in fact blocking the site.
MediaNama, an Indian digital news site, reported that companies such as Vodafone and Jio are currently blocking access, as are ISPs like YOU Broadband, Spectranet, and Jio Gigafiber.
When users try to visit Reddit they receive an error message telling them the connection has timed out due to the server taking too long to respond. It then advises them to try again in a few moments, or alternatively check their device’s data or WiFi connection.
Reddit has become increasingly popular in India as a way of accessing and sharing information, especially since the government has started ramping up its digital censorship regime. This block just shows that ISPs have begun adopting even more aggressive measures in an attempt to try and control the country’s cyberspace.
None of the CSPs or ISPs have specified any reason for the sudden block, although Reddit users speculate that it’s due to the upcoming elections in the country. Some theorize that it’s a ‘coordinated testing phase’ to control social media in anticipation of any civil unrest. The elections are due to take place between 11 April and 19 May.
This theory is supported by the fact that another ISP, Hathway, blocked access to Reddit for eight to 10 days on Sunday 3 March. The company gave no reason for its actions, but later unblocked the site after users complained.
Reports are beginning to trickle in that Reddit is no longer blocked in certain areas of the country, but it remains inaccessible in others – MediaNama is encouraging Reddit users to reach out so that it can keep others updated. It has also published a list of CSPs and ISPs that are still actively blocking the site, which you can find here.
This isn’t India’s first experimentation with online censorship. Pornographic websites have been blocked since September 2018, and, more recently, Indian citizens began to complain of non-offensive materials being made inaccessible, too.
This included websites such as SoundCloud and Streamable, and with reports coming in from all over the country it seems it was a nationwide issue. Again, no statements were released to explain why this was happening, so there’s no indication whether it was due to technical error or another ‘test’ ahead of the upcoming elections.