Just as ‘ Facebook protests’ give rise to democratic protests in Russia against rigging of elections by Mr Putin, the Indian Government seeks to curtail the reach and the voice of individual protest in the world largest democracy.
Had this attempt not come so close to elections in India where the future of the new scion to the Nehru dynasty was at stake. Had this attempt not come at a point where there is a huge loss of faith in the very functioning of India ‘s democratic process. Had this not come so close to the Government’s credibility bring challenged by Anna Hazare’s movement.
Had it not come so close to all these events one might concede more credibility to the Government’s latest threats to Google, Twitter, Orkut and Facebook, as a means of coming to terms with the larger social objectives of our Nation as a whole.
In a flawed electoral system the rise and rise of Social Networking actually brings the nation closer to the intentions our founding fathers built into our constitution. It gives the electorate greater access to a world view. Dispels the ability of political parties to lie and attempt to cage their electorate in ignorance. Allows groups to reach out and create action groups and communities to fight for their rights and express their grievances to the rest of the world across geographies.
It brings the world together in so many more ways than ever possible before. I don’t need to quote Arab Spring and Global Warming as just two of the many social issues that Social Networking has managed to address and change.
So what’s the Government ( not only in India) afraid of ? It’s afraid of the unknown. Social Network is a game changer in the playing out of democracy, and the Government (and Governments all over the world) are caught unawares. All political parties, their elected representatives, whether they sit in opposition or in Government have spent their political lives based on a set of parameters they have come see as sacrosanct. Moral or immoral, those parameters are the only ones they understand. The world has changed beneath their feet.
How do they now fight elections when (in time) 300 million of their electorate does not play by the same rules anymore ? Not only individually but also through their ability to greatly influence each other ? A new breed of politician that understands this, understands how to use Social Networking, and works within it, will rise.
The current politicians are afraid of that new politician. But the use of Social Networking by Barrack Obama for his fund raising a few years ago actually rang the bells of change loud.
No Government or system has ever been able to stand against the march of technology. Let me take the most simplistic example. Could you take away the microphone at a political rally ? Simplistic as it is, it is a medium of mass communication without which election rally’s in India would not exist. If you do not like the conversations over the phone, would you penalize the phone company ? Of course where security issues are involved Governments do step in. But to hold the phone company liable would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
For any ‘Gatekeeper ‘ the ability of the individual to communicate and share content with each other at a mass level is scary. If its true of Music Companies, Hollywood Studios and major Corporations, it is true of Governments. Their very role as a gatekeeper of people’s expressions and ideas and lives is questioned. Companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook are successful because they are not ‘Gatekeepers’. They are ‘Platformers’. The 100 billion dollar valuation for Facebook exists because they do not ‘gatekeep’ your communications. If they did, the companies would not exist.
Yes there are video’s posted, or content posted on the Internet that are immoral and against the law. That encourage racial conflict. But I believe the platforming companies are pretty good about removing such content. All you have to do is complain and if there are enough complaints then that content will be taken off. You only have to look at how quickly the Internet companies and Governments all over respond to child pornography on the net. (least in India actually) But hey ! if there is something against a politician (say a video) and that gets 10 million odd hits in a week, and thousands of comments, does that not say something about how the community feels ? To try and stop that is completely undemocratic , is it not ?
One last thing. Censorship on the Internet is only possible if you shut the Internet down. Google, Facebook and Twitter are only vulnerable because of their size and desire for valuation. Take them down and thousands of alternate sites for platforming content will sprout up. Take them down and ten thousand will sprout up. People have found the power to express themselves and will not give it up easily. The growing community of hackers, some still in their teens, have shown that no Government or Corporation in the world is able to ‘ban’ them.
The Internet and freedom of expression is here to stay.