Censorship and Online Freedom

Is India regressing? That's the question that popped into my mind immediately after the recent turn of events over the last two days. As if the criticisms and verbal bashing the Indian government has been confronting weren't enough, Mr. Kapil Sibal, the incumbent HRD minister, has given ample scope yet again over the issue of pre-screening user content on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc. Predictably, this has raised a great hue and cry amidst the netizens, who have taken to the afore mentioned media to vent their anger and disbelief at the suggestion.

Mr. Sibal argues that 'hate speech must be blocked' and his remark about bringing stringent laws to regulate user content on online websites has snowballed into a controversy following his meeting with the stakeholders that included Internet behemoths like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook. This, he tells, had to happen after these companies stonewalled repeated requests by the Indian government to delete such incendiary material.

Facebook, Google and the likes have responded to this appeal in a light manner, telling they would remove the content if it violates their terms and conditions - a very fair statement. This proposal itself seems quixotic enough given the near impossibility of tracking billions of web pages. But this offensive and outrageous move has apparently shocked the common man - mostly the cybercitizens. It is as if, we netizens don't have anything to do other than trashing the government!

What Mr. Sibal and the government urgently need is self-introspection. The present Indian government, the UPA II, has been plagued by scams that have been tumbling out one after the other so fast that it can put an express train to shame. The long list of scandals about cash for votes, CWG, land mining, 2G Spectrum, Adarsh Housing society, ISRO spectrum allocation (not to mention the other education scams) etc can be revolting and disquieting for a common man who struggles to make his ends meet. If only all this money had been properly utilized, it would have at least aided the society. Sigh!

This year also witnessed Mr. Anna Hazare's fight against corruption. Touted as India's second struggle for freedom, it united the masses and enjoyed unparalleled support from the people and opposition parties alike. Citizens' frustration at the government's inability had reached such peak levels that this campaign paved way for them to let off their steam and make the government see some sense. Sadly, the Lokpal bill is yet to be introduced, even after repeated assurances from the government regarding its passage.

Not withstanding the UPA II's action against Anna's crusade backpedaling on itself, the latest move on user content censorship will be a nail in its own coffin. Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right that every citizen in a democracy must enjoy. What I am unable to comprehend is that, by denying the people of this right, is it trying to silence public opinion?

To come to think of it, I don't think anyone's deliberately intentioned to berate and diss the government, and seriously who's going to complain if the affairs are run smoothly and well. Hope Mr. Sibal and the UPA II cognize this basic fact and stop fooling around by demanding social networking sites to block user content. If you ask me, it's high time the politicians, who are elected to power, are pre-screened for their ability to discharge duties.