Thursday, July 20, 2006

A few requests

Everyday I tell myself that I'm going to stop blogging about this censorship issue and move on to other stuff. And then everyday I read stuff on the Net or in the MSM that makes me indignant enough so I have to blog about.

So. A final set of requests to everyone discussing / debating the ban (and tomorrow, I really, truly will move on):

1) It's not a blog ban:

Can we all please stop saying that the government is banning blogs? If there's one thing this whole incident has made abundantly clear it's that the GoI can't tell a blog from bloodwurst. The GoI is banning websites. If you're reading this, you probably a blogger yourself and don't see much difference, but to most people, who haven't heard of blogs, they're not the same thing. And we need to emphasise that we're trying to protect the freedom of the Internet, not of blogs:

a) I'm tired of hearing the 'how does it matter - blogs never say anything worthwhile anyway' argument. Aside from the fact that we don't make laws that distinguish between people on the basis of their intrinsic worth (can you imagine, for example, a legislation that said it was okay to murder someone as long as they weren't really contributing that much to society), it's useful to remember that the GoI doesn't think / know that it's blocking a bunch of 'trivial' blogs that no one reads. They think (apparently) that they're blocking radical websites that have the power to influence millions. There is nothing in the censorship system of the government that says they're going to make trade-offs between the perceived importance of a site and its harmful content. They'll block anything. They'll block the entire Internet if they feel it's necessary. The way things stand today they have the right to do that. So we're not fighting to protect our right to blog. We're fighting for our right to have free access to the Internet.

b) If there's any hope of winning this battle at all, it's if we can make a community larger than just bloggers understand what government censorship means. And saying the government is banning blogs is entirely counterproductive to that end. Most Internet subscribers don't know what blogs are. Saying the government is banning blogs rather than websites is like saying the government is banning voodoo rather than saying the government is banning religion. The fact that the popular perception of this action is that it's about banning blogs is, frankly, largely our own fault, but let's at least try and communicate to a wider audience what's really at stake here.

As far as I'm concerned, the 'best' thing that could happen at this point is if we could somehow get the CERT-IN to ban shaadi.com. Or Google. Then people might begin to realise what we're fighting about.

2) Free speech is not about sufferance:

I'm tired of everyone, including those who support free speech, acting as though free speech means you just let people have their say and spread whatever message they like without doing anything about it. Of course not. Free speech simply means that you don't stop them from having their say. It certainly doesn't mean that you sit around and do nothing about it. If you don't agree with them, you attack them mercilessly for what they're saying. You tell them why you think they're mistaken. You expose, assuming you can, the flaws in their logic, the inaccuracy of their facts. You prove them wrong. Nobody's saying you have to let them get away with it. Nobody's saying you need to like them or accept them or even be polite to them. All we're saying is that you don't suppress them from saying what they want.

I don't understand why we're so afraid of propaganda. If we were afraid of the truth, and wanted to stop that from spreading, I could understand that. Not accept it, but understand it. But why does propaganda frighten us so much that we feel we have to stop it? If the messages we want to block are so self-evidently wrong, shouldn't we be able to publicly demonstrate that? And if we can't demonstrate it, then what right do we have to ban them? [1]

3) Exit Sandman:

Can we please stop making up hypothetical terrorist websites to combat? I'm not a five year old child. I refuse to be scared by some mysterious bogeyman that no one's ever actually seen but is so horrific and frightening that the whole nation could be destabilised by it. So far, all I've seen is a list of 17 websites, none of which seem to me to pose any threat to national security. From now on, I refuse to deal in abstractions of 'dangerous sites' - if you think censorship is needed, show me an actual site that you think should be banned, tell me what it actually says and explain to me why you feel not banning it will put the security of the nation at risk. Quasi-mystical discussions of all the horrifying propaganda spewing sites that must be out there don't interest me.

4) No, you DON'T support free speech:

Can we please stop saying things like "I support free speech, but...". No, I'm sorry, you don't. If you believe that it's okay for the government to have the power to block any website they choose without providing information about what sites were banned and why, and without having to prove the need for those sites to be banned before they ban them, then you DO NOT support free speech. At least have the courage / conviction to accept that.

5) It's NOT just 17 sites:

Finally, I'm sick of people saying "We know the sites the government has blocked - it's that list of 17". No, actually we don't. We know (finally) some small subset of the sites the government has blocked. But by the government's own admission, they've been issuing orders like this one for a long time now. For all we know they may have issued a second notice on the 13th of July. For all we know they may have issued a dozen notices since. For all we know there might be thousands of websites that they've blocked before this that we don't know about. No, I'm not being paranoid (for a change!). I'm simply saying that as long as we don't have a complete list of all the sites that the government has ever blocked, we have no way of assessing the extent of censorship that the government is practising. So please, stop shooting off your mouth about 'how does it matter if the government blocks a few harmful sites' because you don't know (any more than I do) how many sites the government has blocked or what they contained.

P.S. To clarify - I'm not saying that it would be okay if the GoI were only banning blogs or had only banned 17 sites. Banning anything in this way is unacceptable. But it's important to recognise that the situation is much worse than that.

Notes

[1] I'll go a step further - if we want to fight these 'anti-social' elements (and believe that it's okay to make concessions on principles for that, as those who support banning clearly do) why not use propaganda ourselves? If 'they' can spread lies that will get people to hate decent fellow citizens, despite the fact that they're underground, despite the fact that they have little or no broad-based support, why can't 'we' spread lies that will make all these impressionable people hate them, when we're in a majority and control all of mass media? You'd think it would be easier. (You'll say - but that's lying! Sure. But how come you're willing to sacrifice the rights of ordinary citizens to fight terror, but won't tell a few lies of your own about these alleged hate-mongers?)

26 comments:

GhostOfTomJoad said...

That's the problem with #2 "Free speech is not about sufferance"...if we could understand that, we'd be half way down to heaven already :-)

Space Bar said...

most people, when they say, "I support free speech", are really saying, "I support my right to free speech." they don't really want to allow anyone to have their say, no matter how wrong-headed or poorly argued or ill-informed the other's opinion might be.

when i was in bombay during the 1992 riots, some of us in mass comm. wanted to hear the sangh parivar's take on recent events. but our course coordinators did not allow us to invite some of those guys, for fear that we might very easily be swayed by their rhetoric.

that was when i realised that the right and the left are really sitting next to each other on the perimeter of a huge circle.

ggop said...

Falstaff,
You hit the nail on the head when you bring up the sites shaadi.com or Google. I was just wondering yesterday do most internet users in India even know about blogspot?

(Based on some blurb I read about blog audience in the US projected to be 12 million)

On the other hand, shaadi.com keeps popping up like a menace on my desktop. GoI is smart not to have touched Google, Yahoo and MSN.

gg

Bishu said...

Falstaff,
As usual the your defence of freedom of expression is distinctly marked by your clarity of thoughts.A ban irresepective of whatever format it is implemented remains to be a ban.Be it a crappy movie like DVC or an idiotic book like Lajja,banning them is like robbing my right to find out what's right and what's wrong.And that right should be protected at all cost.
ps: While the post was distinctly marked with thought clarity it was missing your trademark footnotes
;-)

Swathi said...

'free speech' has been a contentious issue for eons and it is no surprise that it has extented to the www.
But what is unacceptable is the fact that there is no transparency on part of the Govt. to provide us any information as to why they are doing what they are doing and this is a major violation of my fundamental right to information.
it is as good as a dead democracy. I mean, it is bad enough that they are imposing bans but it is worse that they are not even providing a proper explanation of it!!!
And i'm surprised that the media focus is also only on bloggers and not the fact that it is a major violation of freedom of expression.

Bishu said...

Surprisingly my bloglines feed subscription is not showing the famous FS footnotes !!

MockTurtle said...

It's all very well for us to sit around and bemoan our lost freedom or to lambast the government for it's ineptness, but I'm not sure if that really gets us anywhere.
I agree completely that it's pointless for the govt to ban websites; if anything it just increases their appeal. However, I think we have to also try to understand the motivation behind the govt's action.
The last time there were bomb blasts in Mumbai, they were followed by vicious anti-Muslim pogroms that shamed us as a nation. To prevent this from happening again Mr. Singh must have sent strong directives to his various ministeries to do everything possible to quell communal tensions... and it seems to have worked. The calm in Bombay this time around has been lauded internationally.
Now of course the orders did trickle down to CERT-IN, and they over-reacted, and their reactions were often mis-directed (Princess Kimberly, come on!). But a lot of the websites that were targeted were actually vigorously touting anti-Muslim ideology, some even violently. Now whether access to these websites should be prohibited is highly debatable, but if you ask me, the govt's heart was in the right place.
In the interest of seeing some reason in the govt's actions, I can only say this. It's not easy to have an entire population scrutinizing you as you work and second guessing every move you make without access to the information or directives that you have. It is certainly essential that, as patriotic Indians, we keep a wary eye on our govt and haul them up when they screw up (as they just did), but we have to admit that not too many of us would pass the same test.
Our best and brightest have no intention of working in our govt, which means that the people who do work there do not have the same degree of competence that some of us do. But given that we lack the inclination to do the govt's work, is it fair to insult those who do?
We have to admit that we are among the minority, as a thriving young Asian democracy, and that our govt has actually pulled us quite a distance over the past half century - compared to our neighbours at least.
If we expect our govt to function on Western standards of liberalism (although isn't radical speech banned in the US and Europe too?), then we must either wait until our govt is more mature, or join it and speed up the process.

Anonymous said...

>> GoI can't tell a blog from bloodwurst

Whats a bloodwurst ? :-)

>> 2) Free speech is not about sufferance:

Has India guaranteed the right to free speech to people who are not Indian citizens ?

>> I don't understand why we're so afraid of propaganda.

May be because sometimes it works ? If you have, say, a rabid mullah sermon being broadcast every hour on the hour, a small %tage of people will get "inspired", and if we dont want even that small %tage of people to get inspired, the freedom of the mullah to spread his message is fair game.

>> - if you think censorship is needed, show me an actual site that you think should be banned, tell me what it actually says and explain to me why you feel not banning it will put the security of the nation at risk.

Well, theres dalistan.org, then theres Khalistan.net, many others also. I leave it to you to figure out why these sites are harmful. and yes,I agree that talking in abstracts will not get us anywhere. Lets include some real websites in the discussion, say:

http://princesskimberly.blogspot.com
http://www.ummah.net/kashmir/atroc/index.htm
http://www.khalistan.net
http://www.daliststan.org

>> Can we please stop saying things like "I support free speech, but...". No, I'm sorry, you don't. If you believe that it's okay for the government to have the power to block any website they choose without providing information about what sites were banned and why, and without having to prove the need for those sites to be banned before they ban them, then you DO NOT support free speech. At least have the courage / conviction to accept that.

Why should we believe what you say and agree to be pigeonholed by a categorization thats, but 1 blog post old ? Someone else can step up and say that if you dont call out for a ban on Islamist websites, you are just a front for the Islamists, have the courage and conviction to accept that ! Will you ? Stop making general chracterizations about what people have said and what they believe in.

>> I'm simply saying that as long as we don't have a complete list of all the sites that the government has ever blocked, we have no way of assessing the extent of censorship that the government is practising. So please, stop shooting off your mouth about 'how does it matter if the government blocks a few harmful sites' because you don't know (any more than I do) how many sites the government has blocked or what they contained.

If the government publicizes what it has banned, that itself gives more prominance to the websites in question. Otoh, let it be up to the website owner, or the website users to protest/file a lawsuit that his/her website has been blocked, and if it is proven in court that it is indeed harmless, then it can be unblocked again.

>> why can't 'we' spread lies that will make all these impressionable people hate them, when we're in a majority and control all of mass media? You'd think it would be easier.

May be because we dont want to spread lies ? That a citizens government should not use propoganda on its own citizens. May be because the easier approach is to block the hate-mongers' channels of communication, something that doesnt impinge on citizens rights.

--

IMO, you are framing this debate in a wrong fashion. The issue is about free speech, but also involves public security, or the common mans right to life. Both are fundamental rights, and the debate will not move forward if a balance is not found between the two.

Sudeep

Anonymous said...

@@mockturtle
>> The last time there were bomb blasts in Mumbai, they were followed by vicious anti-Muslim pogroms that shamed us as a nation.

You are plain wrong, there werent. Please check your facts.

Sudeep

MockTurtle said...

@sudeep: Bomb blasts, train fire-bombing, whatever - you know what I'm talking about.
BTW - what's with the whole anti-Islamic tilt to your comments? It's more than a little childish in this day and age.

Anonymous said...

@sudeep: Bomb blasts, train fire-bombing, whatever - you know what I'm talking about.

But the train fire bombing happened in Gujarat. Not connected to Bombay at all.

>> BTW - what's with the whole anti-Islamic tilt to your comments? It's more than a little childish in this day and age.

Really.. :-) What anti islamic tilt ?

Sudeep

Falstaff said...

ghostoftomjoad: :-).

space bar: Yes, that's why we need to keep the momentum going despite the fact that most people have their own blogs back.

ggop: Oh, I don't know about smart enough. Maybe they just haven't got there yet.

bishu: Thanks. And ah, I see you found the footnotes :-).

swathi: I agree entirely. See my earlier post.

MT: True. And I'm not trying to come up with some major conspiracy theory. But whether they're incompetent or corrupt, we still need protection from them - which is why we need to either stop censorship or make sure it follows a due process.

sudeep:

Yes, propaganda works - it works even better when you try and block it and give the people you're blocking the credibility they need. It works even better when you create a society where well-meaning citizens are not allowed to have their say because they don't know when or why some government bureaucrat may censor them. It works even better when censorship ensures that public exchange of ideas is not allowed to take place. It works particularly well in a police state where everyone is afraid anyway and is more susceptible to manipulation. That's the kind of world you and your precious government are trying to create.

Yes, I saw dalistan.org. I don't see how it could do any harm. Show me who's been moved to violence by these sites. Prove to me that perfectly well-meaning citizens are turning into terrorists because of what it says. You're the one making the accusation - it's your job to prove they're guilty.

It's not a question of believing me, it's a simple matter of definition - if you claim that it's okay for the government to block websites without providing any information as to what sites they're blocking or why they're blocking them, then you are in favour of blind censorship. It's the DEFINITION of blind censorship.

You claim I'm framing the debate wrong. Why don't you offer us an alternate frame? If you'd actually taken my advice yesterday and read my post you'd realise that setting up blind censorship against public security is precisely what I'm not doing. My post yesterday (day before?) argued for the need to have due process so that citizens rights would be protected and censorship of sites would take place only under extreme duress and with the approval of the courts and full information to the public. You claim you're not for blind censorship. What exactly are you for exactly? Except the persecution of Muslims?

Oh, and why don't we ban sites and then let their website owners come forward to defend themselves? Great. I suppose in your world we should also arrest people first and then, if they don't like it, they can appeal. Unfortunately, that's not how the law works.

MockTurtle said...

Not bad, we actually agree on something?

Anonymous said...

>> Yes, propaganda works - it works even better when you try and block it and give the people you're blocking the credibility they need. It works even better when you create a society where well-meaning citizens are not allowed to have their say because they don't know when or why some government bureaucrat may censor them. It works even better when censorship ensures that public exchange of ideas is not allowed to take place. It works particularly well in a police state where everyone is afraid anyway and is more susceptible to manipulation. That's the kind of world you and your precious government are trying to create.

Whats with all the unchecked aggression mate ? All I am doing is to suggest that an alternate version of reality from yours exists. I am not really involved in creating a police state :-D Get a grip. I think you are taking this way too personal.


>> My post yesterday (day before?) argued for the need to have due process so that citizens rights would be protected and censorship of sites would take place only under extreme duress and with the approval of the courts and full information to the public. You claim you're not for blind censorship. What exactly are you for exactly? Except the persecution of Muslims?

WHOA !! slow down boy. You have already accused me of "someone who doesnt support free speech", and now someone who wants to persecute muslims. Are you sure you want to make these wild accusations ? if you are, then may I suggest calling me a uber fascist and Hitler incarnate dictator el presidante. If I am to be abused, I prefer the "big" honorifics please. B-)

>> Yes, I saw dalistan.org. I don't see how it could do any harm. Show me who's been moved to violence by these sites. Prove to me that perfectly well-meaning citizens are turning into terrorists because of what it says. You're the one making the accusation - it's your job to prove they're guilty.

You really expect me to be a detective, grab someone by their collars and drag them to your blogstop ? Itna pose kyun maar rahe ho yaar.. :-) Are you trying to make the case that someone needs to be motivated by hate speech and commit a crime before you can actually recognize the hate speech for what it is and stop its propogation ?


I asked you a couple of questions:

1) What a bloodwurst ? (Please, I really want to know) :-)

2) Does the govt. of India owe free speech rights to people who arent Indian citizens ?

--

Lastly, go easy on the rhetoric. Looks like you are making all these posts and comments in fits of anger, and thats bad for health. Please remember, I did not ban your blogs, I only believe that censhorship plays a role in fighting propoganda. Is that such an extreme view that you call me a names like muslim persecuter free speech hater and someone who wants a police state ?

>> Oh, and why don't we ban sites and then let their website owners come forward to defend themselves?

I think thats a pretty good principal to work by. There has to be an affected party for an appeal. If no affected party turns up, who really is affected by taking down of a particular site ?

>> I suppose in your world we should also arrest people first and then, if they don't like it, they can appeal. Unfortunately, that's not how the law works.

No, there has to be a probable cause for an arrest. Like intent to commit a crime, or reasonable suspision of having committed a crime. The reason for this arrest should be recorded, and if the person chooses to fight his internment in a court of law, he should be given a proper hearing. Likewise with a ban on a blogsite.

Sudeep

Falstaff said...

sudeep: Okay, I'll try and say this calmly.

You're saying that the way the government bans websites is justified. That banning involves taking out websites without informing the public what sites are being blocked or why. It involves a complete lack of transparency. That is blind censorship. I'm not accusing you of being against free speech. You're accusing yourself.

I apologise for the persecutor of muslims jibe. I got a little carried away there. Still, I do think it's curious that all your rhetoric centres on mullahs or jihadis when none of the sites you finally deign to point to are exactly jehadi sites.

And no, I'm trying to make the case that we need something better than the government's completely unsubstantiated opinion before we can even begin to evaluate what sites should be blocked. Just because Gulshan Rai and co. think something is objectionable is not good enough reason to block it. Let them make a convincing case that it is actually harmful to national interest. Let them provide evidence that some people are being incited by it, or that this is likely. Then, if the judiciary agrees with them, let the site be blocked. And let the website owners have the right to appeal.

A bloodwurst is a kind of sausage. You could try looking it up on google if you need more details.

And no, they didn't. But I wasn't aware that anyone was blocking only websites of foreign nationals. Also, it's not just an issue for those whose sites are blocked - it's an issue for Indian citizens because they're being denied information. You seem to think that banning a website only matters for the person who posts on it. I disagree. It matters for all of us, because we don't know what the government is hiding from us.

Finally:

"No, there has to be a probable cause for an arrest. Like intent to commit a crime, or reasonable suspision of having committed a crime. The reason for this arrest should be recorded, and if the person chooses to fight his internment in a court of law, he should be given a proper hearing. Likewise with a ban on a blogsite"

Two things. First, it's not if he chooses to fight his internment - the government has to prove that he's guilty, otherwise he goes free. And that's the principle I want applied to websites as well.

And if you really believe that the process for banning websites should be the same as that for arresting people - then what part of my last post did you disagree with? That's all I've been saying all along - that we need due process. You're the one who's been defending the government actions to date, none of which have come anywhere close to following that process.

Space Bar said...

Laurence Liang says in today's Hindu supplement, The Metro Plus, "...the answer to problematic speech is not silence but more speech."

It doesn't do to ban sites -- or anything -- without making a case for why it is likely to incite an undifferentiated mass of people to certain actions.

dazedandconfused said...

I really liked what space bar said here about people meaning "I support My right to free speech" when they say, "I support free speech" :)

GhostOfTomJoad said...

Unfortunately, the problem lies in our belief that our own right to freedom of speech is greater than others'. I won't be surprised if many who're defending the ban now thought it was perfectly alright for Danish newspapers (and others around the world) to publish those cartoons about the Prophet.

confused said...

MockTurtle,

''The last time there were bomb blasts in Mumbai, they were followed by vicious anti-Muslim pogroms that shamed us as a nation''

Really? Care to explain which ''last'' bomb blasts in Mumbai were followed by a vicious ''program'' against Muslims?

Please do so, with EXACT links, dates, no ifs and buts!

Infact no bomb blasts in Mumbai have EVER been followed by any riots let alone ''vicious progroms.''

And no, you cannot get away with making clarification like fire bombs and blah blah, you made a specific accusation, mentioned bomb blasts and last time, either prove your point or retract it.

confused said...

Sudeep,

You know why we need free speech? So even folks like MT who dont know fact from fiction can make their point and others can point it out. Please understand one thing-dissent is the cornerstone of democracy, take away that and you are left with a police state.

Also, let me ask you something. Which are the most widely read blogs on Indian blogsphere, Amit, GreatBong, Gaurav or Falstaff himself. When have you seen them take an extremist line? So the value of propagoanda is overestimated.

Falstaff,

I am little disappointed that you let MT get away with blasts followed by progrom bit. Those who defend free speech must also call such bluffs. No?

But of course I agree with your post, but then I guess you already know it. :)

Falstaff said...

space bar: Yes, exactly. Good quote.

d&c / ghost of tom joad: Yes. I think we need to recognise that it's not just about the right to be able to say what you want, it's also about the right to be able to hear what other people are saying. Censorship affects me not only because I don't get my say, but because I don't get to find out stuff that might be of vital importance to me but that it's in the government's best interests to block.

confused: Ah, but you're doing such a good job of it for me.

Sorry, the temptation to actually (partially) agree with MT on something for once overcame me. :-).

And I do agree with his larger point - that the government was afraid that the blasts would erupt into rioting (though I suspect that had less to do with not being shamed as a nation, and more to do with not letting Thackeray and co. mint political capital out of the incident), and that it's not unlikely that the blasts escalated the pressure on CERT-IN to block sites. And that, anyway, was fairly irrelevant to my larger argument, which was that the government shouldn't get to blindly censor sites, whatever the motivation.

You're right, of course - the connection between the bomb blasts and the pogroms is tenuous at best and certainly nowhere near as direct as MT implies. I guess I just overlooked that bit. Thank you for taking it up.

MockTurtle said...

@Confused: Learn how to pronounce/spell 'pogrom' consistently (That's right, it's PO-GROM) and I might enter a discussion with you.

MockTurtle said...

@Falstaff: I agree with you. My larger point was simply that it seems harsh to severely criticize a democratically elected government when we as citizens help create that government and even have the opportunity to join it if we are so inclined.

confused said...

MT,

Thanks I will.

So the discussion was about the spelling of progrom? Why so much bitterness? Because you were caught with your pants down?

If you are an idiot, sometimes it just helps to admit it. So why don't you go ahead and admit that you made a factual error? Is it so hard to accept that one can be wrong?

Discussion my foot! Dude, first get your freaking facts right. So while I learn the spelling of progrom, how about understanding the difference between a bomb and fire, Mumbai and Gujarat and last time and any time?

But I guess you apply the same logic which you extended to the reservation debate, how does it matter who gets it as long as someone gets it. Your services might be urgently needed by this government since it seems to function exactly like you!

Pah!

Falstaff,

According to the official concerned the ban had nothing to do with the blasts. Thats what he claims, I am not sure whether its true or not.

confused said...

''I agree with you. My larger point was simply that it seems harsh to severely criticize a democratically elected government when we as citizens help create that government and even have the opportunity to join it if we are so inclined''

WHAT?

Just noticed this gem. So we should not of course ''severely''criticize the Modi government because it slept while riots took place, because of course it was democratically elected. Wait, even better, we should not criticize it at all because even after its despicable behavior it has been duly re-elected with a huge majority.

Dude, your services are urgently needed in China. Please make a move.

p.s I am still learning the spelling of pogrom or was it progrom. Sorry, takes time. heh!

shivam said...

then you DO NOT support free speech. At least have the courage / conviction to accept that.

Either you are with us or without us? I see.