Save the internet, Save the world

My copy of the economist didn’t arrive that week. Instead, I got the following mail from the publisher –

Dear Mr. Balyan,

We deeply regret to inform you that we will not be able to deliver your subscription copy of the February 11th issue of The Economist. This issue includes a special report on Pakistan and features a map showing the disputed territories. India does not allow us to show the current effective border, requiring us instead to show only its territorial claims. As a result, the issue has been seized by the Indian customs authorities. We apologise sincerely for any inconvenience this may cause. We will be extending your subscription by one week to make up for this missed issue.

It had an article listing all the disputed territories of India with its peace loving neighbours. The map of India showed a badly cut up J&K , and a missing Anuranchal. I am pretty sure that majority of Indians would have never seen such a deformed map of their country. So in a way this whole censorship thing is working – the government is busy protecting an imaginary border, and does not need to face any  tough questions from its own citizens.

Since we are fairly excitable citizens, there is a need for some level of censorship in mass media for sure. We still nurse the scars of our recent past when we have randomly started killing each other coz of minor differences in point of view – religious, or political and even social. We display all the traits of a schizophrenic person – we can get hurt by the smallest of things (cartoons? Public smoking? Paintings? Books?) and at the same time chose to live with the most inhumane truths (farmers suicides, colossal corruption, public defecation, dowry deaths etc). Such patient needs to be handled with care and all efforts need to be made not to excite his passions. But while the government in the name of  ‘sensitivities’, controls the spread of information that may embarrass it, the scrupulous politician thrives by exploiting these same sensitivities. The patient is thus never cured and no one really bothers to explain him the truth. Explaining is anyway tough to a population which is 30% illiterate, and of the  remaining, 80% have been subjected to the  state run educational educations institutes. So a Politician wisely stays with emotive issues only, and would rather give a subsidy handout on Kerosene than sit and explain why a road to the village is a better value in the longrun.

Till now it has been easy for the government to manage public perceptions, since traditional media is run by by a handful of people/ organisations, which in turn control what we see, hear, read.  Also, the common man has no access to these outlets to air their frustrations. Private Radio stations are not even allowed to touch news in India officially in India. Meanwhile, Mass media has neglected to do its part in educating the public, and like the politicians have stayed with the same emotive aspects of the stories, thus increasing circulation and reach, but losing its credibility in the bargain.

Saying the truth publicly is the most dangerous thing on the world. A thumbrule to check the health of openness of a country is that if you can stand on a street corner  and abuse the ruler (or tweeting, or sms) without getting shot at, or prosecuted, then maybe the country is ok. This rules out China, Thailand, the whole of middle east, most of Africa (and Kolkotta?). Even Pakistan is ok by that measure. Egypt wasnt ok, but now it is.

Freedom of expression does not have much potency in real world since citizens cant reach out to people beyond their friend circles easily. To reach more people, you would need to physically gather people, which has many real world hassles of weather, location, parking, crowd control etc. Internet on the other hand is a frictionless space for self expression, especially with the arrival of social media, and web2.0 platforms like micro blogging. ‘Freedom of expression’ has now gone viral… and is become fatal for corrupt leaders everywhere.

Though internet is still a novelty in India and reaches only 10% of Indians today, it is already starting to disrupt the status-quo. Even when no traditional media wanted to carry story of #barkhagate, social media refused to let it die out. Traditional media is adapting fast and now carries frequent headlines reflecting the online sentiment of people. People are making fun of the stupidity of their ‘respected’ leaders, people are digging up stories about ‘respectable figures’ that may have been long forgotten, corporations are been hauled up publically if they misbehave with their consumers, government is being asked tough questions. Even if the governments or deep pocketed corporations  muzzle traditional media, the online commentary is ruthless. Since online community supports each other with no ulterior motives, it makes people trust each other much more than what they hear in advertising and even news.

It is not easy to make a case against controlling the internet, so now there is a bogey of Piracy, Porn, Sedition, Hurting sentiments, etc  being raised. There are policies being debated in the backrooms of government that will impact everyone online which could even go the extant of getting people to register with police before they open a facebook account. Google/ yahoo/ msn are under pressure to  filter results that remove all content deemed offensive (I guess to about the politicians), and ofcourse the HRD/ IT minister Mr Kapil Sibal, is handing out a printout of some obscure piece of content from the internet to make his case – again using an emotive issue to force all comments about sonia gandhi removed from the internet, and to prevent any real debate to happen.

Freedom of expression upsets the status quo, it threatens the power of the powerful, it respects nothing, it gives power to the less powerful, it creates revolts. Freedom of expression is finding its home online, and empowering the common man on an unprecedented scale. This is the only hope we have to ensure accountability of our leaders, even if it hurts their sentiments, or creates stresses in a society. It is the MOST important human right, and is the only guarantee that we will all evolve as a species by debating real issues facing us. And for that internet HAS to remain free…

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  1. A massive battle is being fought in India on the freedom of internet. And we may be losing this one. A blog post – http://t.co/86MJpNRg

  2. Save the internet, Save the world. Excellent article by Rahul #Internet Freedom #India.
    http://t.co/EC9MRP4K

  3. Manish says:

    We need to make people aware of the power of Internet and what censoring different resources would do to it.

  4. Applying the logic of censorship of Mass media to Internet is incorrect, and is an assault on freedom of expression- http://t.co/86MJpNRg

  5. Rahul, To take this discussion one level further, these moves are fuelled by the frustration as the government cannot hide any more. Internet has made every individual a private broadcaster. I dont care how many people read my blog/tweets, but i WILL blog/tweet. The quantum of information available at a mere few keystrokes has shaken the very foundation of the dystopia these leaders created.
    Also, would light to highlight the fact that (just in case you have not read it) India has slyly slimed in a proposal at the UN for the formation of an inter-govermental body to police the internet. (http://www.rajeev.in/blog/?p=325) . Information is power, and these censorships have only proven it right.
    One difference though: You can either censor the net or not, there cannot be partial censoring. Thats far too subjective to be justified.
    On a humorous note: you may want to read this: http://armchairoutrage.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/open-response-to-anonymous-from-government-of-india/

  6. Save the internet, Save the world http://t.co/gZ9Gm5Uy

  7. Save the internet, Save the world http://t.co/vFmZqxgc

  8. @bushchime thanks for the retweet. ‘Save the internet, Save the world’- http://t.co/86MJpNRg

  9. Save the internet, Save the world http://t.co/bzxuVKBn

  10. @cherian_john thanks for the RT… ‘Save the internet, Save the world’ – http://t.co/86MJpNRg

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