Indian Government Does U Turn On Content Censorship

Indian Government Does U Turn On Content Censorship

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Twists and turns are the embedded characteristics of politicians and Indians are no exception. Few days ago the Indian government wanted to regulate the user generated content on social networking sites. Was it the content or the people’s revolution that made the government go haywire is a question that won’t be a hard nut to crack. Kapil Sibal, the appointed minister from the Indian Telecom department made sure that he was the center of attraction for two days, present in all forms of media. Whether it was #idiotkapil on Twitter or the open debate on TimesNow, one thing was for sure that the government had pressed the wrong button. Initially people were furious with – why their content should be monitored and later on were scratching their heads when Kapil added that the monitoring should be done by human beings and not by any app. The debate continued on every news channel, on time lines, etc. However, with the growing criticism Indian government changed its stance from content regulation to using social networks as a platform to bridge gaps among the common people and the government. Now the idea has changed from monitoring to listening. We all know listening is the first thing one should do but why all of a sudden there is a change in stance?

Image reproduced from Facebook

Initially, Sibal was quite adamant and more concerned about some cartoons of his cabinet ministers being circulated over the Internet. However, Google and Facebook made it clear that they will follow their guidelines and not the political guidelines. Yahoo also shared the same voice and it has already challenged the government’s decision in court on sharing sensitive data. Watching the public outburst and understanding the practicality of a situation, the government wanted to set fresh terms and once again invited the Internet industry leaders for a closed door meeting yesterday. However the mode of discussion and the direction was changed. Kapil said that:

“… This discussion and this dialogue is about how the social media can empower government, because under the normal processes of government, there is always a limited dialogue with representatives of society because the means are limited,” he also added,

“But with the social media platforms that are now in place, there is a huge expansion of the space within which the dialogue can take place and therefore, that expansion of space should be used by us as a bridge that will help government to be empowered through the citizens…,”

Definitely this is a softer tone but on hindsight, I think the government wants to get into the whole business of social networks. However this whole change of stance really throws some open questions in front of us:

1. Whoever is advising Kapil Sibal over Internet or social media really has no clue. You can’t think of content regulation and I am really surprised to see a tech savvy politician like Kapil thinking of monitoring content 24*7 by individuals.

2. Why is the government only thinking of content regulation on social media sites? If this is the case then it should monitor all discussion forums, chat houses, websites, etc. Content spreads from here too.

3. Why the idea of connecting with the common man suddenly comes out from nowhere? However if we think practically, we are still a nation that survives with expensive and slow Internet especially in non-metros. So if the government wants to implement this visionary idea then it needs to strengthen the basic infrastructure all over India.

4. The government has portals such as Govt2.in, Facebook fan pages that have been created to connect to people but today the fact is that it is a link sharing database with zero engagement.

5. And finally why has the government woken up so late? Is it true to assume that Anna’s movement – India Against Corruption showed the real powers of social media to the government?

With these questions on my mind, I personally feel that it is a desperate makeover after a baseless facepalm situation. The government is trying to strike a chord with the common man again but will it be enough. Lets face the reality that the aam admi is really frustrated with so many scams, lack of responsibility, growing inflation, etc. So sending messages like this at this time really is not hitting the right chords. This whole move is just an initiative to wash away the scars from the face of government. But will it be successful?

Do you think was this a smart move by spreading the word that the government doesn’t want to play with free speech and instead is trying to work with social media companies to find ways to connect and finally screening disturbing content on the grounds of culture and religion?