Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Internet and Social Media - Being Responsible versus Government Censorship

If you're reading this, then I would presume that you're concerned just like me, just like one among the 100 million internet users in India today. You may have heard about the Indian Government using policies and laws to have ISPs block websites or use the police force to conduct unwarranted raids and arrests against people who've vented their frustration online, drawn cartoons of a politician or share information about some influential personality? What do you think is going on? Why do you think this is going on? Read on to find out.

Firstly, we need to understand something that is very simple and logical - The Internet is a tool built BY the people, FOR the people. The Internet has grown to become one of the strongest mediums of communication and this of course, just like science, is a boon and a curse when used the right or the wrong way.

While the internet can be a great tool for learning and sharing knowledge, research or communication and so much more, it has also turned out to be a strong tool for individuals spreading false information, causing distress and unrest among people by sharing disturbing pictures or videos, defaming individuals, polarizing people to fight for their motives and so on. 

While we have seen how internet has helped spread awareness about cancer, there is also clearly a group of participants who have created hate communities, extremist religious groups to name a few. Considering all of this, the Indian Government has all the right to worry about issues like defamation, politically conjured falsified information, hate communities driven by religion or other sentiments for national or personal Security of the government and its framework's personnel. The Indian Government has all the right to worry about certain groups that have great networks and influence, groups that have been able to usurp a country's government, cause instability and generate riots based on falsified information, manipulated images and footage using the power of social media or online press.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, you need to know that there are intelligence agencies and institutions, media agencies, political groups, corporate groups, espionage experts and many other groups who have mastered the art of mind control via Social Media. The Israeli Mossad, the United States CIA and FBI, media agencies like Fox and CNN and so many more. While there is evidence of this all over the internet, by the time you reach the end of this article, I'm sure you'll be looking for information on your own. "Conspiracy" is another word that media outlets or stakeholder agencies use quite often when the reality of evidence stares at them in the eye. Thus, most such evidence (some of which are pure theories) are simply cast aside in categories in a folder labelled "Conspiracy."

Anyway, most groups are made for a sole purpose. That purpose could be to rally people, influence government policy and use other carefully researched strategies to create tension in places of question.

As we speak, Syria, a victim of false information is currently struggling to gain control over terrorist groups (who call themselves rebels) using social media, press, mass media to spread false messages about people "wanting freedom." I strongly urge you to do your own research on this. Of course, these terrorist groups are aided and funded by bigger powers. This is part of a completely different picture anyway.

Supporters of  Libyan Leader and African Ambassador Muammar Gaddafi. Framed as a Dictator and War Criminal by certain Groups, they fueled NATO-led bombings, killing innocent children and civilians. They destroyed the Libyan Government using falsified information via Mass Media and Social Media. Just like Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Egypt, Somalia and Libya, they're currently destroying Syria as we speak. All with the power of Media - Social, Internet and Mass Media.
Now, anyway, getting back to the issue at hand, it is important that we understand that we need work with the government to fight messages of hate, defamation and technically any content that our common sense considers nonsense. Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or any social media platform for that matter have "Report as Abuse" buttons that can be used to report objectionable, questionable, offensive content. 

Of course, although all of those feelings depend on perception from person to person, you have to come to a societal understanding, a common ground if you will. While a nude picture of Goddess Lakshmi is offensive to some, it may look like a work of art to someone else. So, there are ethical dilemmas everywhere, but a common societal understanding is required to find a way to understand the impact of content on people.

The internet has pictures of important people with tags that may or may not be true. For example, there could be a picture of Mr. Narendra Modi against a backdrop of dead muslims with the tag - "This man killed them." A photo like this could quickly pass over a social network if not controlled. This piece of information has not been proven to be true and sharing it with your friends only confirms the fact that you "believe" this to be true. Of course, there is no evidence to prove that Mr. Narendra Modi has done anything like that. If you find something that you think should be shared with someone, please verify sources like Wikipedia. It is incorrect to spread false information or encourage spreading false information. It is also our responsibility to steer the internet in the right direction and ensure that the internet only holds the facts and the truth.

We built the internet and I believe that we need to be more responsible. Somebody once said, "We haven't inherited the earth from our ancestors merely just borrowed it from our children." This seems to stands true for the internet as well now. The internet is a thriving platform of many possibilities and it is as important as anything else for our lives. It is certainly our responsibility to eliminate content that is baseless and false. The internet is a place only for facts and truth. The internet is like a textbook of Physics and Maths. Everything can be understood and proven. This is certainly the ecosystem we need to create for future generations.

Now, sometimes, our attitude doesn't allow us to participate in certain activities. We don't usually care about someone who's fighting against corruption, fighting against felling of trees or industrial waste in rivers, fighting against abuse of women and so on. We are hardly informed about petitions like the one that is fighting to have Monsanto's GMO food banned from our country. We are just too busy to care. We are busy having a good life and we cannot be blamed at all.

However, it is certainly essential that we rethink how "10,000" likes on Facebook can cure a baby suffering from heart problems. We need to rethink how a message that is begging you to forward the same to someone else can impact you or someone else. We need to be a little more critical and aware when we come across messages that want to get to your friends and their friends and so on.

There are a 100 million internet users in India. How many of them do you think know about the fact that the government has already asked ISPs like Reliance, Airtel, BSNL, MTNL to block websites like Google Groups, Yahoo Groups, Vimeo, Pastebin, ThePirateBay and so on? It is not until there is a public outcry on the internet that the government or the necessary authorities from the government re-think their decisions.

Massive corporations in our country can also seduce politicians in the Indian Government into "controlling and regulating Internet" just like how the USA has been lured into with SOPA, PIPA and other nonsense they keep innovating. Corrupt politicians can work with anyone to satisfy their corporate paymasters. We need to be a little more aware and critical when we're online.

So, we have two things - The control of Internet and the blocking of websites.

The control of the internet and the regulation of internet is our major concern today. We also need to know that there is a whole new generation of internet users. A generation that can make or break the internet depending on what they are influenced by. Lets not let the government decide what we can do or cannot do on the internet. Instaed, lets use our tools responsibly and actively participate in educating others, share the right information and report abuse when we think it is right.

I strongly believe that the Government should NOT participate in blocking websites that promote file sharing or Peer to Peer sharing- whether legal or illegal. They have no right or authority to block websites that promote file sharing. But, they have all the right to warrant action against individuals, with evidence and prove that they're a threat to national security or peace. There is a fine line between Freedom of speech and taking advantage of personal freedom. 

We cannot let a few rotten eggs screw up the internet for us. Freedom of Speech means you're able to deliver your opinions on anyone, vent your frustration in any manner, but  not causing harm to the person. Cartoons, Sarcasm and funny pictures have always been ways of expressing our responses to things that impact us. But using the same freedom to compile falsified and manipulated information, hate quotes or politically, religion driven messages, passing it on to other people or other networks is bad and misleading. It is criminal and needs to reported to the right authorities - either the website owner or a local law agency.

The internet is for us, built by us. So, let us use the internet responsibly. Lets not let anyone, especially the government, decide what we get to use on the internet. Let us not come down to that. Please.