In recent months much attention has been drawn to the Indian government’s cracking down on ISPs in an attempt to disrupt the flow of ‘sensitive information’. The rationale behind blocking over 300 websites and heavily limiting SMS services is due to the fear of fueling existing tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims as fabricated images of violence and rumors started circulating.
The Indian government also threatened some media websites with legal action if certain content wasn’t removed and asked Google and Facebook to ‘doctor’ their sites so that sensitive content would not be made available. According to the Google Transparency Report 29% removal requests by the Indian government has been “fully or partially complied with” last year alone.
Furthermore, Indian ISPs blocked six accounts on Twitter proclaiming they were damaging the image of the prime minister and the government. Not only the Indian prime minister has been upset about bringing political satire and parodies to the masses. Proposed media crackdown bills in South Africa have spurred debates and online activism, with some people turning their sites black when a controversial bill passed through parliament. Most of the concern however was with broadcasting freedoms and not with the ‘democracy of the internet’– which was better left in the dark. That is, until the South African president urged the removal of the controversial ‘Zuma Spear’ painting on certain websites.
Are these examples of those in power not having a sense of humour, the abuse of power or an attempt to babysit those of us on the internet? I think it’s a bit of all of those. I also think that the ‘democracy of the internet’ is still pretty young to pin point but that angles of its face can be spotted miles away.
Even South Korea, which is regarded as the pinnacle of a functioning democracy, has been dubbed “a country under surveillance” in a study by Reporters Without Borders titled “Enemies of the Internet.” That’s before you even get to countries like China and Iran which, to differing degrees, have their own, strictly controlled versions of the internet.
The responsibilities taken by these regulations are immense and take governments and companies down a slippery path. A path where, once you start monitoring information based on YOUR perception of its potential threat or sensitivity level, you are obliged to do the same concerning all information. You have taken up the mantel and suddenly it’s your responsibility to make sure that the horny kid doesn’t find the porn.
Granted, some of government’s attempts are from a moral point of view arguably for the better in preventing social unrest (or violence) by debunking rumors. It is when government starts making it personal that one of its ugly heads starts rearing and hashtag bombs are thrown in protest. This is when the government’s image really becomes dirtied.