“The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.” – George Bernard Shaw
A thought that every rational citizen in India today can relate to, but alas the Government of India (GOI) fails to understand. Rather than using social media effectively, time and again the GOI wants to block it. The relationship between the Government and social media never saw a good time. And if the latest news is to be believed as reported by Economic Times then we should get ready to see a state specific ban on social media.
During the recent Assam riots, GOI found social networking sites to be responsible for increasing communal tensions. A thought that was widely debated and it went on a rampant insane blocking of websites and social networking sites. The GOI made sure that it flexed muscles on social networking sites and sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. all have agreed to co-operate with GOI.
At the same time on August 23, the GOI also pressured the telecom companies and internet service providers to block social media networking sites in certain states such as Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu, etc. The outrageous demand in such a short time could not be met due to infrastructure challenges.
GOI has not dumped the idea. After getting some breathing space post Assam tensions dying down, GOI wants telecoms and ISPs to deploy systems that could block social media sites state-wise in the near future.
Is it feasible?
This is not the first time that the GOI has come with the great idea of blocking social media. I have been critical on this move in the past and again I think that these are temporary measures. We are not curing the disease but trying to fix only the symptoms.
Initially, GOI thought of blocking social networks in the entire country but fearing a backlash it went about with blocking selective accounts. The problem later was felt when the blocked accounts were either born again or were accessible via mobile. Moreover, social networking sites can be only blocked for an entire country, which does not serve the purpose and the administrator at GOI realized it with time!
So the obvious next move was to see if it could be done on selective states. With this move, GOI is also trying to make a clear statement that it is not banning entire social media but banning it on particular states during critical times. The bigger problem is that authorities have failed to understand this move will lead to exorbitant costs. To fulfill the demands of GOI, operators will have to install gateways for every state i.e. 28 and at every point where traffic enters and exits the region.
The operators have raised their discomfort but will have to watch how GOI reacts to the statements of the operators. Moreover, this is happening at a time when our PM himself has raised concerns about social media’s role play during communal tensions and considers it to be a cause of concern.
I only wish that free speech should not be suppressed in the name of hate speech. Additionally, the government should also spend some time in talking to evangelists of Indian social media space to understand how the medium can be used effectively.
Banning has never been fruitful, instead it has led to new ways of carrying the same act. It’s high time GOI understands this simple fact.