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Sibal's gag plan: Safeguard or censorship?

Dec 06, 2011 09:25 PM IST India India

New Delhi: The government's idea of pre-screening monitoring content on social media websites is attracting widespread debate. The question is whether the government is acting big brother or curbing one's freedom of expression or is there merit in their argument.

There are at least four different communities by the name, 'I hate Sonia Gandhi', on Facebook, each with hundreds of fans. Rahul Gandhi haters run into the thousands and Digvijaya Singh actually filed an FIR to remove communities like this.

One feels helpless when trolls post dirty messages about them online. When one tries asking Facebook or Orkut for help, all one usually gets is silence. The better way out is filing a police complaint and threatening legal action. That's more or less what the government is doing now.

The same Facebook was recently used in Australia to incite violence against Indian students. Would one champion freedom of expression and refuse to let this be pulled offline?

Wiping the web clean isn't easy though. Some sites are banned by the Government of India. Some have racy content, others have extreme political views. When the original address was blocked, the same stuff is put up with another name.

The question is how does one decide what's not fit to be online?

A new set of IT rules put in place this year say any content or any website the government objects to, has to be blocked within 36 hours, after sending a written note to an Internet Service Provider. That includes content deemed harmful, blasphemous, defamatory or obscene and anything that disrupts public order or threatens India's security.

The problem is those words are too ambiguous. For example, should Anna Hazare's online campaign be pulled down because it's a risk to public order? The answer is no. The trick is to draw a fine balance that we haven't managed to do yet.