Tag Archives: Media

User discretion is required

Here is a thought-provoking article in Indian Express that advises Internet users to use their own discretion instead of simply following the algorithmic contents additions that are thrown at them.

Undoubtedly the world is experiencing the greatest phase of democracy (up till now) through the advent of the Internet. To get educated, to inform yourself, to get aware, all you need is a smartphone to connect to the Internet. All the information is available at your disposal with a few taps, provided you’re receptive.

“Being receptive” is the key here.

Since anybody can publish anything on the Internet, the instances of fake and fabricated news are much greater compared to conventional media. But it isn’t like fake news and fabricated/biased opinion didn’t exist before Internet. The problems that we are facing currently are the results of an unmitigated access to publication media and information dissemination mechanisms to a select few. We used to have a very lopsided information ecosystem. Their writ ran large. The leftist intelligentsia completely controlled what we read, what we watched and what we listened to.

So, fake news and fake opinion and twisting facts have always been there. The difference is, due to the Internet, since it’s easier and faster for people to express themselves, fake news and fake opinion can be immediately countered.

Interestingly, the writer says:

One of the primary reasons this is so is because we don’t know how to navigate the internet’s fast-paced and wide-laned information highways. And, as editors, we don’t have the ability to be the traffic wardens we once were.

The writer begrudges the fact that unlike the pre-Internet days, a select-few cannot now act as “wardens”. Although we have all known since time immemorial that the flow of information was always controlled by these “wardens”, actually reading such expressions is a bit unnerving. It is like hearing about someone being murdered and someone actually being murdered right in front of you.

Why does he think that the general public requires some sort of “wardens” for supervision? Why does he think that people are not capable of judging for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong for them, especially considering the fact that he thinks that the “wardens” know what’s right and what’s wrong?

A few months ago when Donald Trump became the US President, the writer of this Wired article suggested that maybe people are not ready for democracy and they’re not ready for free availability of information. Just because the politician of his choice didn’t get elected, he questions the very existence of democracy and information access. The same sort of questions are routinely raised in India after Narendra Modi (to great extent) and Yogi Adityanath (to marginal extent) used the Internet to directly communicate with their core supporter base.

Actually, it is this mentality that disturbs people. Controlling the flow of information these days is very difficult and in fact, the information flow can only be controlled for those who allow it to be controlled.

Yes, algorithmic content suggestions are bad and people shouldn’t go for them. If your Internet platform asks you to “personalize” your feeds refrain from doing so. The writer of the above Indian Express article rightly says that the more you read a particular opinion (a particular point of view), the more of the same opinion you are recommended by the algorithm. This is the reason if you are reading fake news, there’s a great chance you will go on reading fake news unless you make an extra effort to find something different, something contradictory to read or watch.

Overall I agree with the writer’s point of view, the only thing that got my attention was the quote that I have presented above, that, people need “wardens” to form an unbiased opinion. This is not so. People are intelligent enough to differentiate between different opinions and then make their own choices. Yes, aberrations can occur but public opinion and democracy are a number game and eventually everything evens out.

The new Twitter censorship policy might not be as bad as it looks

There is lots of buzz on the Internet regarding the recent announcement by Twitter that it would be blocking certain tweets in certain countries, although the same tweets will be available in the countries outside of the jurisdiction of those countries wanting to block that particular content.

In the beginning, as soon as I came across this news my first reaction was, “Whattha…” but then I did some reading on the issue and found myself agreeing to many commentators who, although cautiously, understand Twitter’s point of view and deem the development not as bad as it sounds.

The thing is, we don’t live in a Utopian world where freedom of expression and speech is available unshackled. It is not. While tapping on your keyboard, writing for your blog or for Twitter (or Facebook, or for that matter any publishing platform on the Internet) you may take your right to express yourself for granted, but your freedom ends where another’s discomfort begins, and this discomfort can be anything – political, social, ideological or religious.

In the current scenario the governments can block Twitter completely and this doesn’t work good for anybody. Countries like China can block Twitter for just a single tweet. There are many media companies that remove the content from their servers and it is available nowhere in the world. This is the worst case scenario.

Although it is a cyber platform, it works and operates in the real world. Also, it is not a non-profit entity. Somewhere down the line Twitter needs to earn money and it will be earning money via its presence in various countries, and when it plans to have presence in various countries it needs to comply with local jurisdictions whether one likes it or not.

While trying to comply with the local laws Twitter has very carefully drafted its censorship policy and has made censoring content a bit difficult. Particular tweets, while blocked in a country whose government wants them blocked, will be available to the rest of the world and you will also be notified when those tweets are blocked. At Twitter help Center they say:

Many countries, including the United States, have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to users everywhere, if we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to reactively withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time.

We have found that transparency is vital to freedom of expression. Upon receipt of requests to withhold content we will promptly notify affected users, unless we are legally prohibited from doing so, and clearly indicate to viewers when content has been withheld. We have also expanded our partnership with Chilling Effects to include the publication of requests to withhold content in addition to the DMCA notifications that we already transmit.

I think this is a clever thing to do. The governments will have to follow procedures in order to block particular tweets. The same governments will not have an excuse to block entire Twitter at the drop of a hat. Twitter can always say, look, we’re complying with your local laws so you cannot block us.

The good thing is the transparency factor and also a clever way of keeping the content visible in the regions where the local laws are not applicable. Transparency in the sense that the content that is blocked will be marked as blocked content and as mentioned in the above quoted text from Twitter, all the requests to withhold content by particular governments will be listed at the Chilling Effects website.

Since all the Internet companies have to operate in the real world, they have to follow the real jurisdictions. Perhaps one day we will have utopia and the cyber world will be totally different from the real world, but right now everything boils down to the real world, where we all have to operate. Twitter is trying to comply with local laws as well as allowing free flow of information wherever it is possible. So far, it sounds fair.