For discussion to begin, we must eliminate our notions on both the horror of free viewing of breasts and how much one can truly ‘control’ information transmission.
2013 will go down, without doubt, as the year of thinking stupidly. Misguided reactions to various issues, which have fundamentally to do with the functioning of the Internet and other new-age technologies, have dominated discourse over the last six months.
On one hand, we see an almost fervent, respectful worship of the power of social media. If a study is to be believed, social media now has the power to sway the Lok Sabha elections! On the other, we see the proverbial ‘second coming’ of the Internet pornography debate.
Let us take to the task the second problem, an issue that is near and dear to my heart.
The holy trinity of the quest to impose existing physical power structures on the Internet has followed a cycle, with near menstrual regularity, in most developed nations. They are:, in order, Copyright and Piracy, National Security/Children’s Security and Pornography.
These three issues are the ones that are most commonly cited as the reason “to just do something about this terrible unfiltered, unlimited access that the Internet provides.” This is a very dangerous strain of thought, a sort of mass paranoia, where the fear goes beyond any rational assessment of risk.
We see it in college-aged students who have grown weary of Facebook ‘confession pages’ and with folded hands ask their college authorities to step in and just “do something.” Never mind that it is no different from the physical act of gossiping— and that these ‘authorities’ have no jurisdiction over what students do on the Internet.
We see it in the recent PIL petitioner Kamlesh Vaswani, who asked the SC to make viewing of pornography a non-bailable offence.
We see it in an OP-ED that came out in The Hindu today, where after admitting that there was no scientific connection that links pornography to rape, the author still calls for “some sort of technologically feasible filter that makes it more difficult to access porn than merely ticking a box that asks if you are 18”.
Do not demand the impossible
Let’s give these people the quick answer eh? No. None. Nothing. There is no ‘predictive’ technological filter that can be implemented in the way the Supreme Court recently asked. Even the People’s Republic of China’s great firewall or the Golden Shield Project does not work truly; there are ways to get around it.
Ai Weiwei once famously argued that Chinese “leaders must understand it is not possible for them to control the Internet, not unless they shut it off.” The point here is that while to some extent blocking is possible, the Internet manages to find a way to re-route around it.
A hundred percent working intelligent filter, that can block based on content and not addresses, does not exist. In India, therefore, it will be no no different and in all likelihood will be an expensive game of catch-up, where the blacklist of websites keeps increasing, with no end in sight.
While, of course, a dystopia where the Government manufactures all Internet-accessible devices and controls all the tubes may be possible sometime in the future—but is that the price we want to pay? In short, the War on Control of Internet Content will prove to be as expensive and futile as the War on Drugs, or the War on Terror.
What is at the heart of this issue is a fundamental ignorance and simultaneous rejection of the true meaning of the Internet’s existence in today’s society. The consequential metaphorical blinding of oneself while shouting ‘nyaah nyaah nyaah’ has been repeated throughout history.
What of when the modern clock or sundial was invented? If the people, who lived during the time those tools were invented, refused to accept it and instead stuck to their pre-conceived notions of time measurement, would they have still been able to advance their civilization?
Take another example – the spread of the potato crop. When it was introduced to the European diet, it was a game-changer. Potatoes required less agricultural work, grew throughout the year and also grew quite a lot.
The potato indirectly provided leisure time that was utilized in other pursuits. What if the Europeans had rejected the potato, and instead tried to impose their previous power structures on it – saying no root crops should be eaten? (In fact, many protestant peasants died due to their initial stubbornness.) This incidentally, was a similar position taken by some Indian Brahmins, who preferred not to eat vegetables the British brought into India.
The existence of the Internet has a similar effect on our pre-conceived notions of the way information is spread and transmitted. Of course, I am not advocating the extremist position that the Internet should signal the end of any form of intellectual property and so on. But, that, for discussion to begin, we must eliminate our notions on both the horror of free viewing of breasts and how much one can truly ‘control’ information transmission.
And this starts with doing away of the idea of a ‘technological filter’, which serves as nothing more than an appeasement to the average Luddite.