BY VIDYUT - AAM JANATA
In this Make Blog post, Vidyut reflects on the growing censorship in the world and its negative effect on the quality of democracies everywhere. In this light, she also analyses the devastatingly chilling effect the IT Rules can have in India in particular. And asks you to act. Now. Read the original post, also published today, here.
“Decades and decades of censorship using reasons of political violence have allowed the same ones engaging in political violence to brainwash the country into believing that there is only a narrow band of legitimate views. Support for censorship has actually started increasing among those it harms, because the information available to them to make informed choice in the first place is controlled that creates paranoia about other citizens behaving in a largely harmful way. So in theory it is free choice, but in reality, there are two things told. One – what they want you to choose. Second – its extreme opposite. The remaining is gone. One good, one evil, and if you don’t choose good, you are evil. Free Choice. hmm?
It is ironic that most of the rioting and violent protests in the country have been at the hands of political parties, followed by peaceful protests converted into bloodbaths by police and armed forces. Yet the fiction that a citizen is inherently violent and needs to be regimented by these very entities endures.
Democracy has been reduced to a label, because in the absence of transparency, people cannot rule effectively. If you do not know most of the things happening, your “informed” choice is limited to the things shown to you. These things are typically without any foundations in logic leading up to them, so an individual’s ability to examine becomes severely restricted.
As people’s movements worldwide hold governments accountable, governments long used to running aristocracies in the name of democracy are fighting back. Worldwide, there is a kind of civil war to consolidate control over the masses and retain a base of power, because the speed of information has now made the gaps in the fairy tales governments spin increasingly visible.
In India, it manifested as scams and people’s protests. In the US, it manifested as privacy issues. In the middle east it manifested as the demand for the right to rule, by overthrowing dictators and turning to democracy. In each case, the governments have responded with an attack on the one tool that makes dissent possible. Information. Censorship laws are mushrooming everywhere, by and large ignored by a citizenry already conditioned into not questioning governments, and fierce battles are fought in corners where people who understand the significance of these restrictions and the erosion of fundamental rights and democracy that they mean.
Be it the SOPA in the US, PECO in Pakistan, or our IT rules. The end result being aimed for is exactly the same. Creating the legal framework for arbitrary and extra-judicial silencing of content the government wishes to silence.
To keep a long story short, there is no evaluation or neutral moderation needed before you are legally required to take down content on the basis of something as subjective as “hateful” or “offensive”. Since there is no evaluation, the complaint doesn’t even have to be true for taking down your content to be legally required of you. Within 36 hours of receiving the notification (email works too). If I know the ugly minds of our government, you’ll get notified after courts close on a Friday, and your 36 hours will be up before they open to just make sure that they have you nailed. It is how they operate.
Basically, anyone can complain and get anything taken off. No, I’m not writing an imprecise, emotional, juvenile rant. That really is how widespread the rules are designed in their power to silence. No questions asked. However, in practical life, it won’t happen like that. You will not be able to take this act itself off the net because it is hateful, offensive and promotes violation of the rights of the people. You will not be able to touch the hate speech of anyone who can burn buses on the street in real life. Your request will not be complied with, and considerable legal tangles and evaluation will finally prove you in the wrong (or forever mired in government spite). However, if you get a notification of your content violating the rules, you are not the government. Non-compliance will get YOU in trouble. I suppose eventually you’ll be able to contest legally any false take downs against you, but till then your content is killed.
In other words, the rules are framed so that they uphold no right, give widespread rights for arbitrary censorship, and do not require any legal process, oversight or any authority to ensure that they are not being misused. This is deliberate. This is a weapon for silencing being created and has little to do with whatever claim they will wax eloquent in the parliament. If this succeeds, you are guaranteed to have lost all touch with anything the government wants to hide from you, unless you go abroad and follow news on India. The only truth you know will be what the government mandates – the ones the government is not interested in will be determined by who has better organized attacks. And if you have been alive for the last year, you know how much the government cares about what is actually good for you.
Some think that these rules will regulate bad behavior. Not true. There is no kind of speech protected by this law. There is absolutely no moderation needed between a take down request and taking it down 36 hours later. This is a tool to kill online life, not regulate it. Like using an AK47 to disperse a peaceful crowd. Sure, bad content will be killed, but then, so much content will be dead, that it might as well have died of old age. This is NOT regulation. There is no evaluation, there is no process for consideration, there is not even the slightest acknowledgment that any content at all deserves to not be deleted.
Corporations will be able to sell you harmful products by the simple virtue of silencing any harmful news of their product. As “independent and individual” complaints of course. Anything you protest against will have the button to shut you up.
Here is why any party not currently ruling party should be very worried. Any criticism of the government can be complained about and removed. Of course, the vice versa can happen too, but a ruling party has many other weapons to deploy once it finds a target. Worse, it seems to be the preferred mode of operations for ours.
To be safe, you will have to not be seen by ANYONE as offensive, hateful, derogatory, etc etc. This is impossible. You can also be hated for being perfect. In other words, if these rules pass in the parliament, we will enter a new low in our human rights history.
The time to act is now. Write to your MPs. Call them to task, or ask for assistance – depending on how supportive of human rights they are. Demand that this law must not make it through the Parliament at any cost. I am not joking. Have you ever heard me speak so unconditionally opposed to anything? that is how serious this is.
Blog about these rules. Read the document, describe it to people who haven’t read. Explain the rules. Explain what you see as implications. Lampoon thoroughly on social media. Get lampooned on National and International media for the rampant abuse of fundamental rights that they are. Surround homes of MPs till they agree. Go on hunger strikes, protest, burn a few buses if you have them… whatever. Someone wake up JanLokpal gang!!! And whoever else may be useful. STOP THESE RULES NOW.
Act now. It may be late later, and it may become very very much more difficult to simply disagree with anyone in our future “coming up next”
Without transparency, democracy is dead, because people know only what the dictators tell them. They choose within those limits – all of which are naturally acceptable to the dictatorship. I am not joking. Save India. Stop this silencing being organized”.