Social Sites in India and the Censorship Row

Much has been talked about the recent move by Mr. Kapil Sibal, the Union Minister of Communications and Information Technology, to screen the content on the Social media sites. The ministry has asked Google and Facebook to screen their content and remove any objectionable content. This move has already irked bloggers and social media addicts (especially youngsters) and like any sensitive issue the news channels are celebrating the moment by instilling spite and going after Mr. Sibal’s blood.

social media censorship

Well, I am not a big fan of Social Media blanket censorship or blind scrutinizing. Nor am I a blind supporter of the current union Government of India or its leaders. As an unbiased onlooker (plus a social media enthusiast and blogger), I personally believe that social media giants and content aggregators could take a lot more stringent steps to curb objectionable content on the web.

The plight of the current government

I do not know what type of content Mr. Sibal has asked Google and Facebook to screen and perhaps it is even possible that his censorship list mostly contain those anti-government campaigns or pages. But one thing I can clearly affirm is that, this is the first government that had to go through so much of online bashing because it’s during their tenure (first and second term, that is) that the social media boom took place and Facebook, Twitter etc came to existence. That’s pretty much the case with other governments worldwide as well. So it’s not that we are having a worst government in the history of India but the online media and new age television channels make things very obvious and sensitive. Going forward, you can expect even worse reaction and criticism on anything – even if the subsequent governments are good – because of the very viral nature of the social media content, especially the sensitive and spiteful content. And over-celebrating undesirable content is another characteristic of the social media – Example: a minister getting slapped by an individual, a public profile thrown a shoe at him, a parliament member dancing in her own party’s meet etc gets more spicier and viral on the social media sites.

That’s where the role of censorship or screening (choose the right word) comes into picture and I firmly believe that Mr. Kapil Sibal’s move comes at the right time. However, one has to form rules and regulations on media screening for long term regardless of which government is in charge. Hopefully we can arrive at such a set of rules without harming the freedom of speech (a buzz word very cleverly used by many for airing any bullshit)

Freedom of Speech and objectionable content

A lot of Indians believe that United States is the epitome of freedom of speech and less of regulations. Many people blindly adopt whatever norms any US companies come up with while taking on its own government on their policies. I would like to ask such hypocrites a few questions.

  • USA recently banned Wikileaks for its objectionable content mainly taking on the US’s double standards itself. What do you think about it?
  • Your own country’s map is flawed (without Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) in all maps published by Google and other international establishments? Why didn’t you ditch Google for that?
  • You share your personal data with Facebook. Don’t you think a US company with the intention of building the personal data collection of all the people on earth could misuse the same for other purposes?
  • Forget the USA. Do you know that Scotland Yard had banned several hundred facebook pages of anti-government protestors in UK earlier this year?

The crux is that, as a sovereign government, we could ask any foreign operator to be careful with what kind of sensitive data that they spread within the cyber space and I do not doubt the government’s intention at that. If you want to know about the kind of censorship rules that USA has please read this article on Internet censorship in the United States. Unfortunately, our legislation is yet to form good enough rules (and enforce the same) when it comes to cyber stalking. Well, we have a few guidelines and articles from the constitution but nothing yet against the kind of things that are happening now. That’s why it’s not a bad idea to screen content, to begin with, if not total monitoring and censoring which is not 100% possible.

What type of content should be screened?

Regardless of Mr. Sibal’s list, in my view, the following are the kind of content that has to be screened for in India.

Character assassination and obscenity is something that people have been exercising without any limits on social media. This includes attack on public personalities, their personal life and even doctored pictures of their family members.

Content that hurt people’s religious or regional sentiments: I get to see a lot of these things on Facebook. I sometimes do not understand why people are so insensitive to people from other religions and their sentiments.

Plagiarism: Unfortunately, blogging has become more of a business than writing itself and we get to see a lot of plagiarism in the blogosphere and content generation space. It would be great if companies like Google can do a lot more about arresting plagiarism than just tapping into the opportunity of creating more indexed content and boast about those numbers.

Software and media piracy: Pirated content spread faster on social media sites – thanks to its viral nature. Don’t we need to stop this?

Child access to bad content: How many of you parents have been successful in restricting kids’ access to adult and obscene content? Have you ever invested in a good parental lock software? Do you know if your under-13 child is accessing Facebook that he or she’s not supposed to?

Anti-government campaigns: Please don’t misunderstand me here. I am NOT a Indian National Congress member nor do I blindly vote for that flag. And in the democratic system we have the RIGHT to protest when things don’t go the right way. However, it is my belief that a democratically elected government must be allowed to operate instead of using the viral media to driving spiteful campaigns against them. By anti-government campaigns, I didn’t mean some valid scenarios like the Jan Lokpal campaign but I am talking about those campaign that take on the government for each and everything that they are trying to do. Unfortunately, the current opposition as well as the smaller allies within the government itself seems to be always on a blackmailing mode. It is a very bad precedence and need to be taken very seriously in the context of what’s spreading in a viral fashion across news channels and social media. Basically, we are defaming our own democracy at times. As I said, it’s absolutely fine to protest but not with the kind of foul language nor taking on the politicians family members or even their private parts (believe me, I have seen real nasty comments!)

Objectionable activities: On top of screening the content, there are number of activities that happen over the Internet which is banned by law in India. One example, I can think of is earning foreign currency via online activities and never paying taxes for the money earned. The other activities include online forex trading, gambling etc which is banned by law. There are quite a number of people who are doing such illegal activities that need to be curbed. There are even more dangerous online activities such as fake viral marketing and money chain schemes.

Well, that was my view on what the government should be doing in terms of screening the online social activities. Nobody is talking about a complete social media censorship like what China is doing but some amount of restrictions are good for all, I believe! By the way, it is not only the social media that needs to be controlled but some of our sensational news channels as well. All of you may recall how our sensitive live television coverage on the Mumbai terrorist attack actually helped the terrorist to kill more people and fight longer.

Have a good and safe social life! And trust me, if your thoughts are good, you don’t need to be monitored by anybody. Finally, don’t misinterpret the Freedom of Speech!

5 Replies to “Social Sites in India and the Censorship Row”

  1. Hi Ajith,

    First, a clarification. The U.S. government isn’t trying to censor free speech in general. They’re trying to stop illegally obtained secret government files from being publicly shown. That is a significant difference from what you stated.

    The issue of trying to block objectionable content is based on who’s making the decision as to what’s objectionable. You mentioned religion so I’ll use that as an example. You find it objectionable that people will say bad things about it. I find it objectionable that people promote it to begin with. So, do we ban all discussions of religion because we both have an objection in some fashion about it? If not, then do you or I get to decide which way it goes based on which of us has the power at that moment?

    As adults, we should be able to discern for ourselves and our children what we’re subjected to without the government getting into it. Oppression comes when we allow others to dictate these types of things to us. We also need to always be prepared for the consequences of our free speech, but that’s a much different matter.

    1. Hi Mitchel,
      Thank you for pitching in with your views. I mostly agree on the ‘freedom of speech’ part regarding Wikileaks from US’ point of view though from publisher’s point of view it’s still content that he wants to freely publish – just like news channel’s dig out news using whatever possible ways.

      Now, coming to our specific context in India – as you know it’s a huge country with a lot of religious believes and several cultures. What you get to see on social media like FB these days is a lot of spiteful, mocking, hurting content that take on each other. Even worse is what certain extreme views while taking on the government and not allowing it to operate. This phenomenon is something new – I would say hardly 3-4 years old with the proliferation of social media – and where I have objection is taking on people by their religion, culture, private life etc. There’s a lot of fake news spreading that’s promoted without any verification as well. I would like to see such content screened 🙂

      By the way, you are so right about kids’ upbringing. Fortunately, I am not into any religious activities and could teach my kids not to distinguish people using the wrong attributes such as race, caste, color etc. And I would like to thank my father for bringing me up that way…

      1. Ajith, there’s things I don’t like either but I recognize the problems in trying to limit most speech just because it bothers me. People tend to take something like that and go too far with it, and that’s why I worry about even letting it start.

      2. I went through the posts and reply etc. Yes the trends are not good at all. I stay in Mumbai, I see many wrong things on daily basis, try and ignore it but still it plays on my mind again and again. I was born in Mumbai and seen Mumbai over the years. Currently the trend is to make money any way – ethics be it Moral Or Social does not matter. A person is valued by how much he is worth. I am a lover of History, knowing that this very country of ours has had Great statesmen and are reduced to nothing now. The ban on currency has made the ordinary suffer more than the intended class. There might be some benefits to the Government but believe me its the middle class who suffered the most to which I belong. I lead a simple life yet its very difficult to make ends meet. Its a crime to be born in a middle class family as i see in the current times. The subject you posted is too complex to make a comment, thanks and regards.

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