Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Don't censor Facebook, fix law-and-order

There are reports of a riot breaking out in India because someone posted something objectionable to a religious group on Facebook. Two groups came out on the streets and fought it out because of something posted online. As usual, the knee jerk reaction is to try to censor posting on Facebook. As usual, this misses out on the real problems.

  1. Who posted something objectionable? Can't we try to find them? There is a law against posting hateful speech, and we should bring the offender to justice. I haven't seen the objectionable image here, but I'm guessing that if it is truly abhorrent, there will be reason to prosecute the poster.
  2. Is the image really abhorrent? Many religious groups are happy to impose their frail sensibilities on the world at large. People have been persecuted and harassed for artful depictions in the past, and I wouldn't be surprised if the religious group here is choosing to feel outraged at something mundane.
  3. Was the image being forced upon people? There is a ton of objectionable content on the Internet. You don't need to look hard to find very ugly and disgusting things. So what's new about this image? Why was it so hard to ignore it? What does it say about your religious sensibilities when you are looking at disgusting stuff online?
  4. Someone arranged the groups together to fight it out on the streets. Was that done on the Internet? Can we find who arranged to get the groups together? They needed to co-ordinate to get to one place, who did that? Can we bring them to justice?
  5. Who were the people in the groups? They were certainly breaking the law by destroying public and private property. Why can't we find these clowns and punish them?

Of course, the real question is, where was the police when this was happening? Remember them? Why isn't the headline: "Indian police fails to stop miscreants"?

This isn't a story about online censorship at all. I have doubts about the Indian police, they are frequently late, and are ineffective even when they are punctual. The core function of the police is to enforce law and order and it is clear that they failed in this job.

Sure, you can censor Facebook. You can ban all images. You could even ban the Internet. But that wouldn't fix any of the the core problems. Objectionable images can be printed on presses, they can be xeroxed. They can be hand-drawn and copied by carbon paper. The dedicated zealots can take offense at anything.

(Image courtesy: an unrelated article at The Guardian)