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Vinay D.E
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Makes my blood boil - here's the actual Facebook status update that got 2 young women arrested because of complaints by Shiv Sena pramukh Bhushan Anant Sankhe on charges of apparent "religious hurt". The Shiv Sena man and his goons ransacked the posters' uncle's hospital in retailiation - and got away scot free. (via +Annkur P Agarwal )

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(Wed07) Best. Comic. Ever. If you're a writer or blogger, drop everything and read it. This is just one panel.

Hat tip to +Peg Fitzpatrick for pointing it out.

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Bangalore Today....

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*Oh, the irony! +Tehelka commissions an article on online censorship - and then censors it online :-) *

Financial World, the daily from Tehelka asked me for a piece on India's online censorship. What follows is the original text of the article. To their credit they carried it largely unscathed in print - a scan is attached. But it was put up online - and then pulled, apparently because +Tarun Tejpal felt it wasn't nice to call +Barkha Dutt a "fixer" and ordered the entire article to be deleted. Tehelka: Free, fair and fearless? My arse :-)

Article follows:

Sibal liberties.
Why our Government thinks it can censor the internet – and why it will fail.

At the time of writing this, Sonia Gandhi has over 72,000 fans on her official Facebook page. While this in itself is not a large number – Narendra Modi has over a lakh fans and Anna Hazare has well over four lakh of them – there is something else that concerns the Congress.

It is that there are at least 25 groups on Facebook that clearly say in their name that they either “Hate Sonia Gandhi” or want her to go back to Italy or in some other way are uncharitable about ‘Madam’. Some of these have a couple of members. Some others have a couple of thousand.

This is deeply uncomfortable for a party that is used to only having a positive point of view portrayed by a fawning and prostate media – think beyond in-house mouthpieces like Doordarshan to out-of-house mouthpieces and fixers like Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi. And when the party is uncomfortable it starts trying measure after measure to get things back in control.

Critical mass

It’s not like Facebook is new – it’s been around for a few years, and as have the hate groups. There are perhaps even more of them on Orkut, which has been around even longer.

The issue now is that the online medium in India can’t be ignored as that tiny elite affectation any more. India has over 140 million internet users – and that’s more than the number of TV sets in the country. It’s also twenty times the circulation of The Times Of India.

YouTube has exploded to over 31 million monthly viewers – and it is arguably India’s most-watched TV channel, reaching more than thirty times the audience that Ms. Dutt gets on NDTV in a month. Facebook has 44 million regular monthly users – an audience any brand or political party would die for. Or be killed by.

Things aren’t the same any more. Suddenly, digital is the mass medium, reaching out across classes, cities – and most importantly, deep into the voting electorate. About 85 million of those internet users access it through their mobile phones, so it’s not just the more affluent desktop-users we’re talking about. And suddenly, it’s really important to try and put controls in place so that inconvenient truths don’t get around.

There’s enough of carrot-and-stick to keep newspapers and TV channels in line – but the Government found it has nothing in place to police the social media waves, so out trots the Minister for Information Technology and Telecom with smattering of the FUD strategy Microsoft perfected: fear, uncertainty and doubt.


There are a lot of opinions online insensitive to the religious, claimed Sibal – and this was why, out of the goodness of his heart, he wanted controls and monitoring in place. For our own good.

But two facts immediately pointed out that Sibal’s statement was, to put it mildly, bovine excreta.

First, Google’s own report on the Government of India’s demands for removing objectionable material in the first half of 2011 showed that 255 out of 312 removal requests on Orkut and Youtube - a full 82% - were about items that criticised the government and nothing was about religious hate.

More tellingly, the second point is that the Indian Information Technology Act in its current and active form in India - and trust me, it is one of the more comprehensive such laws anywhere – already has religious hate speech and its ilk covered under its sections 66 to 69 as prosecutable acts.

But the key thing to note is that the IT Act doesn’t cover political criticism.

And that is what the Minister actually asked for, according to my friends at Google, Facebook, Yahoo and the like who were summoned to his office, shown an uncomplimentary online depiction of Madam Gandhi, and told in no uncertain terms that it had to stop.

Kapil The Clueless.

For someone who is apparently a lawyer and also apparently in charge of Science and Technology in a nation of a billion-plus, Sibal is remarkably uneducated about how the internet works.

The sites quite reasonably told him that facing criticism was a part and parcel of online life, and they couldn’t do too much about it. Except of course when something was illegal and they received a legal notice – which they would comply with.

Sibal reportedly huffed and puffed and said that all such user comments first could be kept for moderation and only if approved, then posted. The breath-taking stupidity of this statement can be seen in just one calculation – and that too only for one site. Take Facebook alone – assume that one-quarter of its 44 million users post or comment just once a day. That’s 11 million comments a day – or 450,000 an average hour – with over a million in a peak hour. Assuming a human moderator would take a minute to approve or disapprove a comment, it’s a task that would need up to 17,000 people working in an 8-hour shift; or over 50,000 round the clock just to keep Madam’s nose clean.

Perhaps no price is too big to pay to keep Madam’s nose clean - but this was just Facebook. Add Orkut, Twitter, Google Plus, every single newspaper site, every blog, Mouthshut, ConsumerCourt, Rediff, Yahoo and hundreds of other sites and you’ll have a super-equivalent of something maybe even NREGS cannot fund.

Faced with a backlash for this imbecility, Sibal back-tracked saying that political censorship was never the goal (though to people present at the meeting with him it seemed the only goal) but he was concerned about religious hate. Interestingly, in the months since, one hasn’t seen any moves to takedown any of the religious-hate groups active online in India.

The 140 million await his next move.

Increasing threat levels.

Some mandarins in the ministry have threatened sites who don’t comply that they could consider the China option – using Cisco-supplied technology to monitor or block all of the internet usage in India, and entirely block Facebook and Twitter.
The Sibal demand has seen understandably seen no opposition from politicians – perhaps they all would like some control over who says what about them.

More surprisingly, there is little discernible opposition from our industry bodies like the IAMAI or NASSCOM either. Their motivations might not be hard to guess – given the scope of business for Indian websites should a block on overseas ones come about – and for Indian technology companies if there’s a lot of equipment buying and services involved.

What the average Indian internet user needs to do is to perhaps group together and fight this. Ironically, tools like Facebook and Twitter offer the best such medium for getting together on a cause, as the entire Anna Hazare movement showed us.
Indian politicians would do well to remember how totalitarian governments in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere have been thrown out by an angry public using the net at their disposal.

And the Indian public would do well to realise that an Anna Hazare candle march is all well and good – but bringing about a change in the people who govern us would probably need a little more application and persistence.

The growing online constituency.

But time is on the side of the Indian citizen. The 140-million strong net force is slated to double and more to 300 million by 2015. And perhaps nudge 400 million or more when it comes time for our parliamentary elections in 2017. And a reasonable guess would put over 300 million of those as registered voters. A number no politician, Sibal, Madam or otherwise, can ignore.

That would be our first fully-interactive, two-way online suffrage. And that would be when we fully can engage with politicians, out their misdeeds, demand better governance and have a semblance of what we all talk of – transparency.

The elections in 2013 will be a testing ground. Not enough voters will be online to make a big direct difference- but enough will be around to make a big indirect difference, through influence. Parties will themselves offer and ask for more online visibility.

The tide towards online activism and governance will be relentless – of that we can be sure.

The Sibal incident will be one speedbump – but cross it we will, with whatever time and effort it’ll take.

Like in everything else, a lot of what we do is two steps forward, one step back. But even that nett resulting single step forward, time after time is what will take us to where we need to be.

A nation of truly liberated netizens.

Mahesh Murthy is an entrepreneur, investor and futurist. He helps run a leading digital marketing firm Pinstorm; a top-ranked venture capital fund Seedfund and is a well-known speaker and commentator on all things digital. Follow him on Twitter @MaheshMurthy

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Ah! this is genius.
As it turns out, Conway's Game of Life is Turing-complete. Here, for instance, is a recursive Game of Life: a working Game running on the Game itself.

(h/t: +Aleatha Parker-Wood)

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Our govt's flashes of brilliance are blinding as usual. All user uploaded content to be submitted to a censor board who will screen it for "unacceptable content" before it goes online. "Human beings" and not "Technology" would screen for "Objectionable Content", wow.
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