The government used the opportunity to block politically inconvenient content, criticism it was receiving for its mishandling of a sensitive situation. Many in our political class are threatened by this new participatory medium where incriminatory information can spread rather quickly and cannot be suppressed, says Arvind Gupta.
Life has come a full circle for government of India, especially for the Prime Minister's Office in its perception and understanding of this new social and digital media.
Barely last week, the PMO, home and information technology ministries were trying to get intermediaries, ISPs to block many pages, Twitter accounts and take down websites, this week the @PMOIndia twitter account was used to release PM's statement on the CAG report on coal block allocation.
The prime minister could not make a statement in Parliament amidst the "din" and used this new media to make himself heard amongst other media. That's precisely how millions of net savvy, educated Indians use the new media, to get heard, to express themselves.
The digital media has created writers, journalists, photographers out of all of us like never before and is truly the most democratic media around with no single controller unlike traditional media. Globally, the new media has become the quickest source of news and information. In India too, the adoption of the same has increased many folds in the last 12-18 months.
India has the Information Technology Act 2000, amended in 2008 and IT Rules framed in 2011 that govern the usage of the internet, cyber crime and role of intermediaries within India. While IT Rules 2011, which deal with the intermediaries liabilities, are being reframed, the cyber laws have sufficient provisions to deal with misuse of this new media.
The government and its agencies have to understand this new media much better to be able to mine information, use it as a source of real time intelligence and counter spread of misinformation. This needs to be integrated within our national intelligence framework. The recent clampdown by the government on social media is an example of lack of understanding on how this media works and rather than allying with this media, the government chose to confront the same which led to widespread protests under the provisions of freedom of expression and speech, which is a basic tenet of our Constitution and our vibrant democracy.
The timing of this last clampdown, the manner and pretext it was conducted is very questionable. The government took these steps at a time, when public anger against the government is increasing everyday due to mis-governance, corruption, large scale scams and price rise. National security is paramount and if any users were posing a national security risk, spreading seditious material, and conducting hate speech, the government has the right to clampdown on the same. But unfortunately that is what was not done in many of the cases that were reported for blocking.
The government used this opportunity to block politically inconvenient content, criticism it was receiving for its mishandling of a sensitive situation. Many in our political class are threatened by this new participatory medium where incriminatory information can spread rather quickly and cannot be suppressed. Many independent analysis show that over 90 percent of the blocked content was not posing any threat to national security and society in general.
The government lost its sense of humour when it arm twisted many of the information intermediaries to remove parody accounts. Many anti-national sites/Facebook pages, venom spewing Twitter handles, gambling and betting sites which are against the Indian law are commonly available on the internet in India and no attempt have been made to control the actual miscreants.
Such attempts to curb dissenting opinions cause irreparable damage to our democratic setup and reputation and credibility at a global stage. This vibrant new media platform has been wrongly targeted, seemingly out of ignorance and arrogance. Its time the government turns to this media as a source of information, intelligence and pre-empts many of these incidents to happen in the future.
Arvind Gupta, is an technology entrepreneur who now heads the information technology cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party. He can be reached on twitter @buzzindelhi. All views are personal.