As if all the problems facing this glorious land—hunger, disease, death, malnutrition, farmer suicides, etc—have all been miraculously solved; as if all the scams facing this wondrous government—2G, CWG, Delhi international airport, etc–have all been cracked, Harvard University’s proud son, Kapil Sibal, has stepped in to crack the whip.
The telecommunications and information technology minister, he of the “zero-loss” formulation, now wants “social media sites like Facebook to prescreen user content from India and to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before it goes online”, according to the New York Times.
According to the Indian Express, Sibal’s ire is motivated by the “derogatory, defamatory and inflammatory content about religious figures and Indian leaders such as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the Web.” (Not surprisingly, somebody’s created the hashtag #IdiotKapilSibal to express his ire.)
The attack on social media comes in the wake of the attempts to muzzle mainstream media following the anti-corruption campaign. Read together, it reveals a growing political distate for privacy and free speech, reminiscent of the censorship era during the Emergency, without a formal proclamation on the part of the Congress-led UPA.
There is no denying, certainly, that there is plenty of stuff on the internet that is vile, abusive, even verbally violent. But that’s the nature of the beast, its anonymity lends it an edge, and there is no denying that there is plenty of stuff offline too that is vile, abusive, even physically violent. But to seek to prescreen everything goes against the laws of the land, indeed it veers dangerously close to China’s (or more recently Thailand’s).
Questions: Should social media be screened? Is it possible to prescreen everything that appears online? Doesn’t the government have anything better to do? Or is this just another diversionary tactic of a government that is trying to cover its tracks?
Also read: Say ‘No’ to India’s blogger control act
Bonus reading: The greatest poet since ‘Bhakti’ movement?