Kapil Sibal’s latest demand that Social Media screen content has stirred that proverbial hornet’s nest of the mishmashed discussion of the most contentious Internet buzzwords – “values”, freedom of speech, privacy, policing , “censorship” – and all the jingo-ism that goes with them.
A pragmatic way to look at it would be to talk about the architecture of a system, the hierarchy that is implicit in that system, and the value decisions that architecture and hierarchy implies.
We all crow about the architecture of the internet – about its flatness, its freedom. However, if we think about it, this flatness/freedom is just on the surface. We must remember, there are very few Wikipedias. Most “platforms” for interaction or information are owned and run by the private sector who have shareholder/balance sheet imperatives.
For their part these private sector players can only function under the large superstructure of the political economy. There are certain rules and laws defined by the superstructure of that political economy. Those rules must be followed – and we are often thankful for them.
When it comes to the enduser’s discussion on freedom/privacy must be predicated by the knowledge that, as long as the “providers” of this freedom are in themselves governed upon, our freedom/privacy is also a function of the decision of that superstructure.
*Side-Note* – At the same time, this whole talk about privacy is completely skewed – how can we talk about privacy for what we have essentially put up for public display?How can we talk about privacy when all our data is used by these platforms to sell to advertisers? *end-note*
The architecture of the internet in itself is value neutral. In other words there is nothing inherent on the internet which stops you from doing this for example. However we depend on the the political economy to afford certain guidelines which it deems are against a defined moral value. Pedophilia and child p0rn for example. the only reason they dont exist (or are “hard to find”) is because they are illegal and this guideline must be followed in all cases. or Does banning childporn form an outrageous “fascist” indicator of Big Brotherly Censorship?
Or take the case of National Security – if google maps shows the indian army barracks positions on our borders – would the government be right in asking for its removal, citing national security?
There is obviously a problem that comes in with this of course which is – where does the government draw the line. And once the line is drawn how is it implemented? should a wikipidia-esque self policing for example, become a norm?
The more overarching question is the question of true freedom. Even if the internet is able to miraculously self-regulate, it still exists within a a political/economic superstructure, and will be defined by that hierarchy – how can the internet be made free of that?
That will be the discussion of another post – for now id like to leave you with some food for thought –
– Was the “usage of social media” “right” during the jasmine spring? how about during the london riots? was it “right” then? WHats the difference between the two?
– How do you define Freedom of Speech. Is anything but complete freedom of speech acceptable to you?
ooh! chck out @angadc’s article about roughly the same areas – its a great read!