Wednesday, October 23, 2013

If it is dark, please let it stay dark.

I started my day with reading an article written by Mr. Manish Tewari in the morning paper titled “Is virtual civilisation the breeding ground for anarchy?

This blog is about marketing & not politics, so why should I even bother blogging about a politician’s personal PoV. I have a few reasons:
  1. My business is directly impacted by the consumers’ usage of Internet, or restrictions there-in.
  2. Social media plays a very important role in my life and that of my community at large.
  3. The writer happens to be the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Government of India and hence his views could end up framing policy.
  4. And frankly, it just got my goat.
I would recommend that you read the article in full. It did take me 4 attempts to fully decipher the English, but it was worth it.

The long and short of it is that Minister views the freedom of expression on the internet as a possible problem and says the Internet today represents the largest ungoverned space on Earth” and it a space which can cause a lot of harm & anarchy and “hence it is the responsibility of the stakeholders to deliberate the need to strike a right balance or in other words find that ‘equilibrium’ between ‘Right to Privacy’ and ’Right to Anonymity’.”

The article is a smart play of words to try and project a neutral stance, however, I think the leanings are for everyone to see.

My view is that there is a very large number of folks in position of authority (and lots of editor types of traditional media formats) who have not been able to come to terms on a media format where:
  • The audience has an independent view, talks back, voices disagreements openly and does not shut up when you ask them to.
  • The audience actually creates the conversation without waiting for a role for the formal "know it all" moderator.
  • The audience listens & believes more to the views of other like-minded audiences, rather than to “well drafted & controlled releases / media bulletins”.
The folks who profess end-of-world scenario and fear “anarchy”, are mostly media usage experts of yesterday’s media. They are too used to a “in-control” media and hence are unable to come to terms with the vibrancy of the newer formats of social media. I believe most do not understand the social media in not new. After all social media is just conversations amongst folks using the preferred "locations of conversation" of the day – which today happens to be Twitter, FB, WhatsApp, SMS, etc. as much as the neighborhood chai shop, beauty parlors and a barista.

Folks are doing on a Twitter what they are also doing at a coffee shop – talking, sharing, expressing – all of it freely – and about everything from movies, to music, to cricket, to politics. Of course the newer technologies, allow conversations over greater distances and faster.  

The fact is that we Indians are an expressive and opinionated bunch – we always have been. It is just that earlier our conversations was not “readable” – today they are.  Voice has changed to text, images and videos – as they tell a better story.

Social media is all about 2 way conversations, it about listening and talking – in fact it more about listening. However, when I glance thru’ some of the social profiles of the doomsayers, I can spot at least one, fairly obvious issue. These guys don’t seem to be interested in listening to “social conversation”, or even having a conversation, they just want to talk. A one-way speech syndrome; similar to writing a “safe” column in a national daily, is the kind of controlled engagement that they seem to prefer.

Above is a snap shot of the Twitter profile of Mr. Manish Tewari, the author, who follows NO ONE. I guess no one has anything to say that he is interested in.  Of course it is his social profile and he can choose to use,  not use, or how to use Twitter, however, what worries me is that he will influence, if not take the decision, which might impact the freedom to use SM.

I would be equally worried if a bald guy was to take a decision on the need of combs in the world. 

The other aspect that the Minister talks about is the propagation of hate by faceless virtual folks and the danger that poses to the society at large. Now normally these are viewed as areas of “national importance” and I do not have expertise to write on this, however, I will stick my neck out on this (at least a bit) and make two points: 
  1. It is well understood that the best way to address the hate speech is to fight it with more speech, not less. I think in this video Mr Eric Schmidt of Google does a better job of explaining the context than I could ever do.  In my personal experience, I have mostly found the discussions / conversations on SM to be passionate, personal and balanced. And just like it would happen on the streets, once in a while one comes across content which is malicious, trashy or just obnoxious – and one does what one should do, either ignore it, or retort or discuss and warn others about it. To handle that kind of content, what is needed is mostly common-sense and a little education -  definitely not the big brother on the back to validate what one should or should not see. 
  2. I remember years back, when the mobile phones were a new add-on to lives, there was a lot of debate on how terrorists and anti-social elements would end up using them and hence they should be disallowed in sensitive areas. However, overtime, it is the same devices, which are enabling crimes to be tracked by locking on to GPS location of the users, and monitoring content. On similar lines, anti-national social media users can be traced far more easily than if the activities where being done without the use of technology. Yes, there would be challenges, but footprints on the internet are far more traceable. What is needed is relevant expertise and SOPs to handle such a menace. 
What was good to note that the media house that carried Mr. Tewari’s article, its sister publication had an article on the same day about India’s declining Internet freedom and how any blow to the Internet’s free functioning is a blow to individual freedom.  

I firmly believe that the governments need to use social media to communicate more and bring about increased transparency, rather than create a fear psychosis about a potential need to clap down. We are better off with it being the largest ungoverned space in the world. 

Unlike some, I love a healthy conversation; so will be happy to respond to your views, even if they are not in sync with mine. Do share your views. My twitter handle is @vijaysingh and I do follow.


Govind Puri said...

Makes sense for a younger guy who understands new media to take over the reins.

Nidhi Sarkar said...

Folks like Manish Tewari want the return of the Doordharshan days of media - control control control.