Tag Archive for 'Social networking'

The “free” in free speech

Outlook magazine cover

The story so far: Kapil Sibal, India’s telecommunications minister, last week asked Internet companies and social media sites like Facebook to pre-screen user content from India and to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before it goes online. [More here in NYT and here a round-up of censorship in the country]

Yesterday, in a column titled “virtual reality” in The Asian Age, Shashi Tharoor defended Kapil Sibal:

And yet this very freedom is its own biggest threat. It means anyone can say literally anything and, inevitably, many do. Lies, distortions and calumny go into cyberspace unchallenged; hatred, pornography and slander are routinely aired. There is no fact-checking, no institutional reputation for reliability to defend. The anonymity permitted by social media encourages even more irresponsibility: people hidden behind pseudonyms feel free to hurl abuses they would never dare to utter to the recipients’ faces. The borderline between legitimate creative expression and “disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content” becomes more unclear.

Mr Sibal’s main concern was not with politics, but with scurrilous material about certain religions that could have incited retaliatory violence. People say or depict things on social media that might be bad enough in their living rooms, but are positively dangerous in a public space. The challenge of regulating social media is that the person writing or drawing such things does so in the privacy of his home but releases them into the global commons. My own yardstick is very clear: I reject censorship. Art, literature and political opinion are to me sacrosanct. But publishing inflammatory material to incite communal feelings is akin to dropping a lighted match at a petrol pump. No society can afford to tolerate it, and no responsible government of India would allow it.

That position has got me almost as much hate mail on the Internet as poor Mr Sibal. But I’d rather stub out that match than close down the petrol pump. {Read the full column here]

Here Nilanjana Roy demolishes Sashi Tharoor’s column:

This has been an inescapable feature of the Internet since the 1990s, so why is it a problem now? And why is the nature of the Internet itself being used as an excuse to press for government regulation of the Internet? The most effective networks (Twitter, Facebook), web encyclopaedias (Wikipaedia) and forums online do not depend on silent censorship or overt censorship to be comfortable spaces for the average user. They rely on a combination of internal moderation–Twitter is ruthless about blocking fake and spam accounts, for instance, personalised screening, where every user sets his or her privacy levels, and the group’s own, evolving standards of what is acceptable behaviour. What is acceptable on sites like Grindr, for instance, are highly sexual images; on sites like 4chan, abuse is part of the conversation; but Twitter would very quickly kick off users who attempted to recreate the ambience of those sites.

Mr Tharoor’s real problem might be something that we all struggle with–the Internet in its present avatar requires much more from users than the passive consumption of news. It requires all of us to make choices about what we want to pay attention to, and the kind of communities we want to build, and it requires users to be active, responsible participants in their consumption of news and commentary. The state has no business taking over this mediation, or dictating how sanitised everyone’s web experience should be. [Full column here]

And Prayaag Akbar in The Sunday Guardian: Kapil Sibal is nobody’s fewl

Mr Sibal followed this up with a brief foray into the tumult of mass politics in India. After taking charge of negotiating on the government’s behalf with Anna Hazare’s team, he managed to alienate everyone involved in the negotiation with such alacrity (including, according to some reports, most of his own party members in the Congress) that he ended up arresting a 74-year-old man at the height of his national popularity. Finger firmly on the pulse of the country, he then proceeded to issue a series of statements defending his decision and maligning a person who — cronies aside — only wanted to do some good for India.

Now he goes and puts Internet India on trial. It is one thing to misread Anna’s Moment, but any fewl with a modem know there are three truths held self-evident by today’s Great Unwashed, the wired world. 1. The Internet shall be the greatest bastion of free speech history has known. 2. The man who fights the above (it is invariably a man) will be mocked, ridiculed, lampooned, abused and Photoshopped until his dignity lies as tattered as his logic. 3. WE MUST HAZ FREE PORN. [More here]

And Outlook cover story here

India asks Google, Facebook to screen user content

From NYT:

About six weeks ago, Mr. Sibal called legal representatives from the top Internet service providers and Facebook into his New Delhi office, said one of the executives who was briefed on the meeting.

At the meeting, Mr. Sibal showed attendees a Facebook page that maligned the Congress Party’s president, Sonia Gandhi. “This is unacceptable,” he told attendees, the executive said, and he asked them to find a way to monitor what is posted on their sites.

In the second meeting with the same executives in late November, Mr. Sibal told them that he expected them to use human beings to screen content, not technology, the executive said.

The three executives said Mr. Sibal has told these companies that he expects them to set up a proactive prescreening system, with staffers looking for objectionable content and deleting it before it is posted.

The executives said representatives from these companies will tell Mr. Sibal at the meeting on Monday that his demand is impossible, given the volume of user-generated content coming from India, and that they cannot be responsible for determining what is and isn’t defamatory or disparaging. More:

Also in NYT:

‘Chilling’ impact of India’s April Internet rules

The most stringent government push came in April, when the “Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules 2011” were introduced. The rules require “intermediaries,” companies like Facebook, Google and Yahoo that provide the platform for users to comment and create their own content, to respond quickly if individuals complain that content is “disparaging” or “harassing,” among other complaints. If the complainant’s claim is valid, these companies must take down the offensive information within 36 hours.

So, what impact have these rules had so far?

A yet-to-be-published study by the Center for Internet and Society in Bangalore concludes that free speech on the Internet in India is already being curtailed in a “chilling” manner. More:

Pakistan bans Facebook and YouTube over “sacrilegious” content

From The Independent:

Pakistan pulled the plug on Facebook yesterday, angered by its hosting of a “blasphemous” competition to draw the best portrait of the Prophet Mohamed.

Within hours of the ruling from the High Court in Lahore, attempts to update statuses and upload photographs failed across the country as internet service providers hastened into compliance.

Most browser screens perfunctorily informed users that they were “unable to find” the website; others were more specific, citing the court ruling and adding that “access would remain blocked till 31 May 2010 or further orders”.

At the heart of the controversial shutdown is the “Everybody Draw Mohamed Day!” page. Organisers were asking people to draw their image of Mohamed – an online response to violent threats made against a Danish newspaper that published caricatures of Islam’s Prophet in 2006 and more recently against the creators of South Park over their depiction of the Prophet in a bear suit. More:

Click here to read: Pakistan widens online ban to include YouTube

Bubbly — Twitter’s audio avatar

From The Economic Times:

An audio avatar of the popular social networking service, Twitter, has quietly been gaining thousands of adherents daily among Indian mobile phone subscribers. Not yet officially launched, the Bubbly mobile voice blogging service has already added some five lakh users in just over a month and it is spreading fast, quite appropriately, through word-of-mouth endorsements.

Just like with Twitter, Bubbly allows users to connect to a network of friends, family or celebrities by sending voice messages lasting up to a minute to followers. But unlike Twitter, the updates are heard, not read. Bubbly is the brainchild of San Francisco-based Bubble Motion, which has chosen to launch the service first in India, not its home base in North America.

“We looked at markets in terms of subscriber size, messaging savviness, where our existing services are live, and speed at which the operators work. Since the operators in India are extremely aggressive and it is our largest existing market globally, it made natural sense to launch first in India,” Bubble Motion president and CEO Thomas Clayton told ET.

Bubble Motion, which has a tie-up with India’s largest cellphone brand, Airtel, for a previous service called Bubble Talk that lets users leave short voice messages for each other, is going with the same operator for Bubbly. More:

Facebook Looks to India

From BusinessWeek:

These are busy times for Javier Olivan. As international manager for Facebook, the 32-year-old Spaniard’s job is to find ways for the social networking site to expand its reach far beyond its U.S. base. And last month the company took one of its biggest steps yet, adding Hindi and five other Indian tongues. That takes the number of languages officially supported by Facebook to 57, with several dozen more in the works. “We’ve been literally launching almost a language a week,” says Olivan.

Facebook, though, isn’t expanding its workforce at anywhere near that pace. More established Internet companies such as Google and Amazon have grown internationally by setting up operations in far-flung locales and hiring workers there, but Facebook believes that’s not an option. “I don’t know why people think that by having a local office you will have a better local product,” Olivan says. That might work “for certain types of businesses,” the Stanford MBA concedes, but not for Facebook. “The brick-and-mortar approach is not effective in doing [things] fast and efficiently,” he says. More:

Behind Facebook’s succes: It takes a village

Anand Giridharadas in IHT:

Verla, India: Twitter and Facebook are, OMG, so last millennium.

Or so it seems as I look out through my window in the forested Indian village where I am living, one of those places that the future has yet to invade.

A row of modest houses faces me. All day long, as I write, their inhabitants talk. And I have discovered through their talk that the age-old sociability of the village – ambient sociability, one might call it – harbors a strange likeness to the social-networking culture we think to be so new.

They don’t do one-on-one conversation here. They broadcast. If you have something to say, yell. Bring water! Go to school! Why did you tell her that thing? The people do not limit their talk to their own homes. Their scolds and praise and commands are for the village.