Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Don't mock, they'll block

Dear Indian Government,

I’m a little confused by your recent behaviour. The riots in Assam, the attacks on northeastern Indians in other parts of the country, the rumours of more planned attacks, the fear and panic among the people – all really disturbing and horrible. But your response? Myopic at best, dictatorial at worst. Blocking online content that is genuinely incendiary and arresting the people behind it is perfectly justified – democracy is not code for anarchy, after all. But restricting communication in general? Hello again, 1975.

Speaking of history, whom/what did you blame in 1947, 1984, 1992-3? Or did the entire world collectively hallucinate about those riots?

I think it all boils down to one simple fact – debate does not equal sedition. And if users want to discuss political issues on Twitter, then they should be encouraged to (I know I’d rather read that than what Amitabh’s grandkid ate last night, but maybe that’s just me). And blocking hashtags of relevant words amounts to online dictatorship, whichever way you slice it. Not exactly the reputation you want if you’re trying to portray yourself as the next superpower.

Technology is not the enemy (and if you knew me, you’d know that I must feel really strongly about this whole thing to say that). The people who misuse it are. Technology is just the medium to spread ideas, and it is up to us what ideas we choose to spread. I know this is very basic and any 5 year old knows this, but sometimes, I’m not sure about you guys. Instead of blaming technology and restricting its use, why not use it yourselves? To spread facts, dispel rumours, and prevent panic from going viral? Send texts to tell users what’s really going on, and give helpline information in case they witness something unlawful. Set up official social networking accounts that don’t just give image-building trivia like which random school/employment programme/power plant the PM inaugurated today, or whose death he condoled (which is what the official account of PMOIndia on Twitter does), but actually engage with users on issues that matter. If you did that, maybe you wouldn’t have to worry about blocking so many parody accounts, as you’re currently busy doing, because people would respect you without being forced to.

Oh, and while on banning lampoons, please stop using the excuse of “trying to prevent riots” when basically you’re just upset that you’re made fun of in public. Apart from the fact that such childishness doesn’t befit India's 65 years, your excuse is unconvincing and makes us want to make more fun. And really, with all the riots (and rumours thereof), rape, murder, poverty, lack of education, and so much else that’s wrong with this country, do you really want to be that bad cop who takes away a teeny bit of fun from your citizens?

Swivelchair Critic (since my office doesn't have the nice, big, squishy armchairs).


  1. I find it hard to believe that there is someone in the PMO who cares about being made fun of on twitter. I'm sure Manmohan himself isn't savvy enough to personally see and take offense at these tweeters(twats?). Who exactly in guvment do you think cares? If indeed there is someone, it shouldn't be hard to zero in and shame them on fb or g+.

  2. Anon - so why do you think the govt is busy banning parody accounts? They weren't all saying "communally sensitive" things - but they were all blocked - either because people in govt are too lazy/not savvy enough to separate the genuinely harmful from silly fun, or because they want to stamp out any dissent. Neither reason is terribly comforting. And Manmohan may not care personally, but that's what sycophants are for, right?

  3. Incompetence in government is no reason to feel discomforted. We should expect it, have workarounds for it, and hope that they never get competent enough to do real damage to our lives. I myself am thankful for it. There just can't be good government when there's one representative for every 2 million people.