Right to expression Or Reasonable expression!

Wed, Feb 1, 2012

Social Issues

The recently sparked debate on Censorship of Internet in our country has raised several questions to ponder over. Internet heavyweights like Google and Facebook got involved in a legal battle with the Government over the objectionable and offensive material on these websites. Apparently, High Court has warned these websites to remove defamatory and obscene content or they may have to face some sort of a ban. China has already blocked several social networking websites in the past and such a decision in our country may bring about some severe repercussions. However, it is extremely important to analyze several dimensions of this complex and intriguing issue rather than talking of the dos and don’ts of the situation.

Let’s try to understand the context, which is central to this issue. We’re living in 2012 where internet as a medium of communication has changed immensely. With India achieving stupendous growth in most of the sectors in the past decade, online media has reached another dimension. Social networking sites have changed the very nature of our media. It has become an enormous channel where almost the entire world meets at a single place and exchanges information as well as opinions. This has provided new strength to our communication network but has also aggravated some problems for a simple reason that all it takes is a couple of seconds for the content to go viral. Any undesirable content can widely spread in the blink of an eye and thus poses a huge threat to the society. So doesn’t this call for some amount of check or regulation? To me it certainly does.

Now, despite the willingness to ensure some check, there’s a million dollar question that of the limit of free speech i.e. distinction between what is reasonable to be allowed on the web and what is not. Moreover, who decides what is right and what is not? Is it the Government or the Websites or the Religious communities? The courts can’t be approached for every other post. Moreover, the present IT act is highly subjective to interpretation and can be molded for vested interests.  The Government talks of screening the web content but is ignoring the feasibility of such a process. 40 million Facebook accounts and several hundred million tweets per day is a reality in our country.  Is it really possible to monitor the web in its entirety either manually or technologically? In light of these limitations, one of the possible ways to deal with this issue is setting up an independent body that would regulate the web content. This legally authorized regulator being independent of any kind of influence and bias would deal with the issues pertaining to the internet content. The individual websites could be asked to take some responsibility whereby they could specify in their terms and conditions that posting of any inflammatory material would invite penalty. This would at least deter the exchange of malicious content.

The result of any hasty decision may have to be faced by a complete generation of our society. Hence it’s also important to analyze the effect of a probable ban on our booming yet vulnerable economy. While Google has maintained from the start that the idea of pre-censoring everything can have serious consequences towards the growth of India, the Government and High Court have been pretty vocal in saying that they would not hesitate in blocking them. Our whole IT industry is massively dependent on Google. The solutions to professional problems in various other sectors, the efficiency of vast electronic commerce continuum, the immense pool of information exchange and the ever-increasing faith in online communication are some of the many vital elements which simply can’t be ignored.

With several aspects to the complex scenario we have in front of us right now, it’s our responsibility to make sure that the correct decision is taken. The importance of a free flow of information on internet has to be kept at par with the importance of keeping the websites free from any further offensive content.  This whole issue can also be looked upon from another dimension which is Virtual world vs. Real world. Living in the real world, we restrain ourselves in terms of our communication and action. This restricted behavior can be attributed to factors such as respect, avoiding conflict, fear of law etc. However, when we step into the virtual world, the dynamics change altogether. Why do we demonstrate this dual persona? Shouldn’t we hold some respect, some decency and some sensibility in the virtual world just as we have in the real world? Let’s not blindly boast of the clichéd phrase – “Freedom of speech” and propagate hatred . Freedom of speech doesn’t equate to Freedom to abuse or defame.   It’s high time that we act with some conscience collectively so that there are no differences of opinion in the future and we all are consistent in our vision of a spotless information exchange system.

-Alok Jain

MBA Batch of 2013

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