Thank you Google from India
Dear Google Sir,
Thank you for standing up for free speech in the face of severe pressure brought to bear upon you by Mr Kapil Sibal the Telecom Minister in the Congress led UPA government. I noted with dismay that not enough people have thanked you and I dont want you to get the impression that we are a thankless nation. Hope this letter encourages you to stand your ground in the days to come.
The internet as we know it today, one which allows anonymous dissent, is the most crucial weapon we have to help this country climb out of third world hood. In the coming days, people might accost you and offer ideas to tweak the nature of the internet to suit “Indian communal sensibilities“. But Sir, we dont want tweaking, we want the same internet that the free world has.
Like you Sir, any casual visitor to India from the west, once he or she gets over the visual sensory overload is left to wonder why a liberal democracy has failed so miserably and visibly. Deep answers are’nt forthcoming and the wisecracks are never convincing. Some things in India cannot be discussed openly. Yet exactly those things guide us towards our destiny. Free speech breaks this gridlock and allows us to aim for an alternate destiny which we hope is not permanent third world status. We heard that in your country, great things were accomplished by Benjamin Franklin, Hamilton and your other founding fathers by writing anonymous letters. Thanks to your product, I was able to find a list of Mr Franklin’s pseudonyms. We are in a similar stage of political maturity in India. We need to have the tools to circulate ideas where they can be debated and judged solely on their merits. If we are forced to attach our identity – which is not what they are actually looking for as I will explain – these ideas however skilfully constructed will be simply cast aside by ad hominem ascription of prejudice such as those of caste, religion, professional, or monetary.
Our government has said that they are calling a round table on December 15 with big people from all sides including the mainstream media attending. The Hindu a leading newspaper proposed an independent regulator and this idea seems to have found traction. See this interview Sir
Karan Thapar: Could you invite the press to be party to the round table?
Kapil Sibal: I will love to have the press there.
Source : IBN
Many of us are wondering and deeply suspicious of what the Indian mainstream press is doing in this particular issue. Believe us when we say the mainstream media does not have a dog in this fight. There are no curbs sought to be imposed on the press, yet they are raising the demons of emergency day press freedom. It is quite bizarre that they want to inject themselves into this issue which does not concern them at all but impacts us at a most fundamental level. If you think this is an unfair “us” vs “them” argument, you are correct. Let me give you a recent example.
As your product “crawled” Indian news sites you might have noticed that the words “Bail and not Jail” vanished once all the politicians and business men were granted bail. Magically, lawyers who appear on TV wearing a shroud of impartiality forgot all about two government bureaucrats who are still in jail. Even a remarkable court staying of bail already granted by a lower court attracted only radio silence. This may sound petty, but let me put it this way. Say, if for months you have been debating on prime time TV the judicial principle of “Bail and not Jail” you would expect the debate to intensify when the highest court cancels a bail already granted. 1.93 Lakh undertrials are still in jail and two from this very case are in jail. The coverage stops as soon as their bucket is full even if the tap is still running. Maybe this is too much detail, apologies let me get to the point.
We are experiencing a national uprising against corruption and we arent clear which side the Indian mainstream media is on.
In defence of curbs, they may rattle out stats that only 4% of people watch English TV and of them only 10% of them care about what is written online. This is a ploy to shrink our numbers and show that some checks on 10,000 internet people should not matter considering 100M internet users who dont care enough to blog/tweet/or comment. On closer inspection, you will find that the most passionate and aware of the English TV audience are the same ones that are online.
I am going to throw some examples on the table. (all emphasis mine)
Ashok Malik says
“Could, say, Twitter incentivise users who tweet under verifiable names by perhaps giving them access to more services, quantitative or qualitative? The answer lies in nudging the industry towards such options, not in the Government’s sledgehammer approach.
Shashi Tharoor says
It means anyone can say literally anything and, inevitably, many do. Lies, distortions and calumny go into cyberspace unchallenged; hatred, pornography and slander are routinely aired. There is no fact-checking, no institutional reputation for reliability to defend. The anonymity permitted by social media encourages even more irresponsibility: people hidden behind pseudonyms feel free to hurl abuses they would never dare to utter to the recipients’ faces. The borderline between legitimate creative expression and “disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content” becomes more unclear.
Rajdeep Sardesai says
Fake accounts/trolls/anonymity, when will social media grow up?
Ignoring cheap attempts at shaming the more refined journos take this line. “How can I take you seriously if you are scared to put your real name and take accountability?” Attached to this is an implicit consensus that if something concrete were to be done about this, it wouldn’t be all that bad. After all it would finally place bloggers on a level playing field with them. Certainly they have a limited point in that anonymity isn’t an ideal situation. Look outside your window, do we live in an ideal world ? But it is easy to turn the tables on them too.
Why do you care who the idea comes from ? How can I take you seriously; one who attaches so great a value to identity that it can completely render worthless in your eyes years of work, cross links, thousands of comments, and never before heard analysis of issues . Obviously the lakhs of people who have visited this and other anonymous and pseudonymous blogs are able to comfortably engage with ideas without the encumbrance by having to own up everything. It is not just about the bloggers (thousands) but also about participants (millions).
Sir, you may hear the following argument too. “India is a free country and not a police state. Dissent will not be punished.” Sir, we have a scheme in India called Right To Information (RTI). In this scheme citizens transform themselves into sitting ducks by having to disclose their name and address to find out information. Information that ought to be really under mandatory disclosure and public. A quick search of your product reveals 12 deaths this year and numerous harassment cases. This cowardly blog was the first to flag this the dangers of this act extensively while the courageous and independent media was handing out RTI awards. On issue after issue media houses place groupthink over critical and independent analysis.
Just yesterday, the media here ran a story like this Sir.
“Congress sources say that if the home minister comes out of this case he will emerge stronger”.
The media thinks nothing to grant anonymity to their sources for such an innocuous story. The politician making this “startling remark” probably also has top police officers and media heads on speed dial. Yet, he feared his organization would somehow take action against him for attaching his name to this precious non-story. Journos then turn around and call little guy a coward for fearing his employer for talking about deep state issues. Is it fair that those who hide under popularity and press protection tear to shreds a common man who cannot even name a councilors brother to save his life? C-est-la-vie sir. Lets move on.
Obviously there can be no disagreement that what isnt legal in real life cant be legal online too. But Sir, the government does want to approach the court system to take action against online crime because it is cumbersome ! How do you think that makes the 1.93 Lakh undertrials feel Sir ? Sample this :
Kapil Sibal: You know Karan this is the procedure that will not work. By the time an FIR is filed and the investigation is done, we will have to get to know what the source of that content is and Google and Facebook refuse to provide that source to us. So who are we going to prosecute? Number two, assuming they give us the source many of them are outside our jurisdictions. So how do we prosecute? It will cost millions of dollars to prosecute.
Source : IBN
They want to remove things that might be perfectly legal to the point that it would cost millions of dollars for the prosecution to argue that it isnt legal. Have you heard anything more ironic ?
Allow me to point you to the fact by and large the Indian internet is clean. We have demonstrated a great ability to reject the outright trash and accept humour and engage with probing questions. If an mere internet post can trigger “catastrophic riots of a magnitude you and I cannot even imagine” a pamphlet can do the same thing.
The politicians are actually calling into question the very humanity of the Indian people and their verified media friends are too dumb to even realize it !!
So, I believe the consensus might be to somehow penalize internet content that cannot be attributed directly to an individual. Obviously, attribution requires much more than merely someone using a human sounding name or even a phone. Perhaps some kind of digital certificate issued by the Press Authority or the Independent regulator to be discussed by big people in media on our behalf ? See how quickly this dissolves into insanity Sir.
If I may indulge in a bit of turf protection. This blog and many like this currently hold the top search positions for over a dozen burning issues impacting this country deeply.
- Unmonitored social justice that reaches the wrong people.
- Adhoc benefits based purely on identity that permanently cleaves the Indian people and prevents voter consolidation around ideas.
- A SEZ policy that promised Shenzhen and Jebel Ali but delivered solitary buildings amidst squalor.
- A corruption scam of such brazenness that threatens to rip institutions apart.
I am erring on the side of paranoia but in the event they seek degrading our blogs on search positions, I hope you will not agree to that. We are not after money because there are no ads on these blogs.
Finally, reasons might be forwarded about poor troll-like quality of content on anonymous blogs and tweets. They may say forcing people to verify accounts will result in better content. Sir, speaking for myself, if the content on this blog is poor in quality atleast when compared to authenticated blogs , I can assure you that it is because the humans writing those blogs are smarter or better educated than me. If I were to blog under my real identity the quality would be exactly the same because I am incapable to do better than this. But I am smart enough to understand that the real motivation is to place new rules in the hope that the content itself changes.
You will be no doubt be approached by technocrats gleefully offering to “expose this person to reveal the sad little guy or girl behind a screen”. They are correct Sir, this is exactly what you will find. Sad, unremarkable, little, but optimistic people like me peeping at a monitor. Who after a long days work, after a tiring conference call, instead of going to sleep like everyone else, write about issues they hope will make this country better. Writing stuff mainstream media ought to be writing about. Unlike them winning for us is not collecting vain career-points or visibility. We define victory in being able to find others like us who are willing and capable to elevate themselves onto a plane, way above the trappings of identity, onto a realm where only ideas matter. And boy have we been successful, the debates on twitter and blogs (almost all of them from unverified accounts) have completely outclassed the media. If we are to be called cowards hiding behind a mask by career journalists, debutante politicians, and columnists – so be it.
Speaking of masks sir, you may have seen this picture in your inflight magazine.
Let me tell you about this mask sir. It is called Kathakali, and it takes an enormous effort to put this on, hours to paint their faces, arrange pieces of the facial ornaments and to put on the costume. In India, we walk around with this mask on permanently in real life. Except it took half a lifetime to put it on. We are carefully prepared in school to be ashamed of who we are and accept overbearing control as punishment. Crucial questions are never answered and communities are raised to be suspicious of each other. Life is like an orchestra where everyone is trained by instinct to look over the shoulder at each other and to crave for approval from the socialist conductor. Post liberalization, big business has merged with the socialist conductor to take over all aspects of your thought and opinion. Differential access to leisure, to police, to law make it impossible to free your mind of the yoke of the Indian reality. Political correctness and sidestepping contentious issues by being facetious are just grease paint we must don. We dont see the paint in others because everyone has a different version of it, but we are startled when we see anyone without the mask and paint.
Sir, when the Kathakali performance is over, the artist carefully removes his mask and uses thinner to get rid of the paint. That is when they really speak their mind. It could be cheap or of the highest intellect – it really doesnt matter. What matters is the mask is off and finally we have the real Indian speaking.
Thank you Sir for your time,
The little guy behind the screen.