A bad start for 2012 as it starts with the cartoonist Aseem Trivedi’s website Cartoonagainstcorruption.com i.e. hosted by BigRock is being shut down without any legal notice or any notification from the hosting company.
Disclaimer: I feel very bad that I have to write this article and truth be told I wish circumstances were somehow different that I wouldn’t have to write this, but after carefully thinking and reading people’s opinion in multiple forums I believe its best as a siteowner that I should voice my opinion. But makes me feel even worse than this is that the government that we elected (yes, I voted) is a group of sadistic individuals is picking on Indians and attacking their fundamental right, trying to silence them by accusing them as a traitor in a court.
I had a conversation with Aseem Trivedi via phone this morning when I came to know that cartoonsagainstcorruption.com was shut down few days ago. What really caught my attention is that now there’s a very strong possibility- all thanks to series of redtape, incompetent and half-knowledged people in the middle of this unfortunate process -that so many laws that can be manipulated and accuse anyone as a traitor of this nation anyone from those who participate in movements that reflects the sentiments of the people, bloggers, writers and worse even in Social media websites where its a no brainer that the owners do have 100% control over what people say and discuss (and that’s the beauty of it). All you need is a group of lawyers and “activisits” who are taking advantage of judges in our country who don’t really know how the internet really functions.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some set of laws out there that can be used to even track down people who have made comments in a website and put a lawsuit against them because the government finds it offending. I am not a lawyer, but recent series of events can make anyone say this without a shadow of a doubt. The internet is the only platform out there that lets you to voice your opinion out. Yes, many of opinions are hurtful and maybe even just plain wrong, but controlling what should say by creating a blanket of fear is beyond good and bad- its pure evil especially in a type of government that let’s people to speak up and also take ownership/responsibility of what they say.
During my conversation with Aseem Trivedi in the morning of January 17th 2012, I came to know that Mumbai Crime Branch ordered BigRock, an Indian based web hosting service, to shut down the website of the cartoonist. Before we go any further, he’s the same guy who also had his work displayed during the Anna Hazare movement that depicted the POV of a lot of people in this country about our current situation against corruption and everything associated with it. What came to me as a shock is that BigRock did not contact Aseem Trivedi before suspending the account, but rather sent him an email after suspending the website. Aseem Trivedi confirmed that he did not get any warning or legal document from Mumbai Crime Branch or from Big Rock.
After doing some searching via google, because “it featured content mocking India’s constitution”. What’s really sad that the government that a toggle switch between to understand and not to understand sarcasm,witty remarks, technical but important know-how and in this case the meaning of the word “satire”. The picture that is in question is this:
I am pretty surprised that they find this offending. This pretty much sums up the mindset of a majority of the people (emphasizing on the word majority) and their perception of the government. This is a classic case of “guilty unless proven innocent” treatment that a person has to endure when dealing with such entity. Why was Aseem not being informed by BigRock before shutting down the site? Why wasn’t there any notice/court order given to him before shutting down the website- or atleast asking to remove the questionable content (unless the real reason to do is to find some excuse as a front to remove cartoons that involves the respected politicians involved during this movement?
Now I wonder how guys like Jay Hind will say after reading this!
In my opinion this very much goes against the freedom of expression because freedom of expression gives you the right even to speak about issues that are serious and/or controversial in nature to every Indian. The situation goes for the worse when a cartoonist is charged with treason in the Beed District court. It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out that the particular group of people are bullying 1 supporter of this moment at a time and hunting him or her down to dismantle the Anna Hazare movement from within.
And to make sure this doesn’t happen again, the following happened during this incident:
Ironically, a legal system that is well known to take a very long time to reach into a conclusion of most lawsuits of any nature (even high profiled lawsuits), is the same legal system that quickly sanctioned the right to hold Google and Facebook responsible of the content displayed in their website that obviously nobody has the control. This is as silly as making a type of government system to control every individual of what he says. The reason that some people are justifying this is by saying that Obscene pictures of Gods needs to be taken down. While this deed is noble (even I’ll give them that), the way of executing this deed is of a bigger evil. The entity who are aiming their guns over Google and Facebook India are finding ways to gag the truth and will use the same tactic to take down anything that can be “offended”.
Why is it not a big deal?
Because there’s something called the “report” button. Facebook even provides for the ads on the sides. Many blogs, groups and discussions/profiles that was spoofed to misrepresent someone in the social media was taken down when and if a lot of people reported it and if the group of people within these social media companies take a decision if it should be taken down or not. This is something that the people and the companies that have been doing for a very very VERY long time. Infact, this is something that even website hosting companies do it. They at first ask to remove the content that is universally offensive if its only a particular content that is questioned, but if its the entire blog/group then I am sure every company has a decision making mechanism who know what they are doing and saying to make the decisions.
The gentlemen WHO is responsible to troll over the people of the internet- and Facebook/Google is Vinay Rai. Wall Street Journal nicknames him as “censorship crusader” although during the interview it pretty much shows that this man knows nothing about the internet, let alone social networking:
WSJ: Why didn’t you notify the social networking Web sites of the content and ask them to remove it – many sites offer such functionality?
VR: I did not deem it appropriate to approach foreign companies myself. I put my point across to the government who, in my view, is the best body to pursue this with multinationals.
Wait- you haven’t even approached the companies? Those companies have offices in India with a fullfledged management. In what way you deemed it inappropritate? For a lot of people, they will have a similar thought, but WSJ writer Amol Sharma and Preetika Rana didn’t ask about it.
WSJ: How often do you visit these sites? Do you have a Facebook account?
VR: I’m not too active on social media. I registered on Facebook over 2 years ago but deactivated my account a few months later. This was because my inbox was flooded with external applications, requests and games sent by unknown users via the website. Since I wasn’t too familiar with the content, I deactivated my account.
Yeah, we all see what’s wrong in the picture, don’t we? The person who isn’t in any social networking site (let alone know bother to know how social media works) is the same guy who filed a case against these sites. This is the first classic case where having a lack of certain technical knowledge of how something works is an advantage rather than a disadvantage. What actions can one expect from one who never really spent time to understand how social media works.
I know if I speak about this, eventually religion is going to be involved so I am going to address here. Yes, insulting other religion is bad. No, that doesn’t mean you resort to gag people like this and force your defination of freedom of speech to people. Stiffling people’s freedom of speech is far worse than this. You cannot assign a team/people even with high amount of qualification and experience and pre-screen and display what’s good for you and what’s bad for you. You can’t even pre-screen print and tv media so why are you wasting money, time and resources to control something that its not meant to be controlled? Get your priorities in place. There are far greater priorities in our under-developed country that requires the same dedication. Is satisfying your campaign sponsors and lobbyists that important?
Speaking of the legal system, as sumed up nicely by Medianama reported that Reliance broadband has blocked file-sharing websites by receiving a John Doe order from the Delhi High Court. This is where ignorance of technical know-how is used as an advantage to get the job done. Reliance gets a court order where they sent a list of file sharing websites to ISPs that asked them to stop piracy. For those who are not familiar with how file-sharing works, taking a defination from Wikipedia (who at the time is fighting a similar battle in the best by shutting down their site in less than 13 hours to protest against SOPA):
File sharing is the practice of distributing or providing access to digitally stored information, such as computer programs, multimedia (audio, images, and video), documents, or electronic books. It may be implemented through a variety of ways. Common methods of storage, transmission, and distribution used in file sharing include manual sharing using removable media, centralized servers on computer networks, World Wide Web-based hyperlinked documents, and the use of distributed peer-to-peer networking (see peer-to-peer file sharing).
This is something that a lot of people use on a daily basis even in our country- even by writers, journalists and artists (I’ve suggested this to a friend).
However its not possible for ISPs to check every file that are upload everyday by users around the world. Best possible solution? Block the access. When you have this great big hammer (the court order) hanging above anyone, you really can’t do anything, even if it goes against freedom of speech or the right to have full and uncontrolled access to the internet that may affect your daily routine and possibly your job. This is just another way of saying “If you’re using file-sharing, that means in our eyes you’re as good as a pirate”. There have been many times when Sushubh Mittal, owner of Broadband India forums even indicated few complaints by his forum members is that certain ISPs have made sure that their subscribers cannot access his website. Now, is there any excuse for that? And also, whenever a movie is release with Reliance label on it (or worse if Reliance entertainment’s wing Big Pictures decides to release series of degrading reality tv shows and cheesy mother-in-law and daughter-in-law spanish soap rip-off series), does that mean they can block file sharing websites? Do judges even know what is happening and even if they do know- do they know what the internet really is?
Unfortunately nobody can challenge such court orders (not even by our ISPs- yet) because either the “big white shark” scared the pants off and/or if they siding them from behind.
The way I see things: Some entities in Corporate and even in mainstream media business wants a piece of the internet but when most of their sites didn’t pick up the crowd and the momentum unlike a lot of websites owned by non-corporates and mainstream media entities did, they want to destroy it because it started to hurt their print/TV publication. They’re afraid because internet is now a well-established platform that it gives an equal opportunity to individual to become publishers. Bloggers are in a way publishers because of the internet the gap between writing and publishing is reduced dramatically. If your content is good, honest and commands over a particular group of people with similar interests, it grows. It also gives an opportunity to start independent and honest media/non media entity- like blogs, forums, chatrooms and even communities.
Since a lot of such “online properties” are gaining massive and growing readership on a daily basis, they get a lot of advertisement revenue. Unlike the traditional media where many believe that they will not have content that puts up ugly facts about their advertisers, online media doesn’t work that way. You can choose either to have a direct ad campaign or use advertisement services. This even gives more liberty to site owners to concentrate on content.
This is the question that you as an Indian have to ask: Would you pay any Indian based website hosting company- or even host an online business- with a fear that they might shut you down just like that? Would you like your content to be pre-screened by a bunch of people who conviniently didn’t bother to know how the internet works? Would you like to be termed as a pirate by courtpapers and lawyers just because you are using filesharing so that you can access your documents or royalty free materials from wherever you want? Would you like your freedom of expression to be stripped slowly by politicians and so-called crusaders who many can suspect he or she is funded by a corporate entity with its own motive? Some of what I say is based on theory, but the beauty of human instincts is that when you see series of events unfolding infront of you, you know that there’s something wrong in the picture. Make a choice- Either voice your opinion against this- or be ready to become a property of blood sucking lifeless blokes who will use you to promote their agenda. For all we know, this could probably be the last freedom of choice you might be able to take on the internet.