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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What Sibal Doesn't Git: Wisdom of the Crowd

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Posted by: danish Ahmed 11:55 PM



So Kapil Sabil finally succeeded in nudging out Kolavari Di from Twitter trending topics ? Once more, one of the three musketeers of the Congress,the telecommunication minister, Kapil Sibal has raised shit-storm by asking Internet companies like Facebook,Google and others to impose censorship on Social Media to “take care of  sensibilities of our people”. It is not just Kolavari Di, other important news item such as Anna Hazare and his team gearing up for fresh protests against the government on the Lokpal Bill, the FDI issue and other such issues of real significance  have been put on back-burner as Sibal started the shit-storm by expressing desire to baby-sit more than 100 million Indian Internet users ! 


True, some content found on web are more than derogatory,they are vile and perverse but these people exist in physical world,amongst up.  It is ironic that in the age of Social Web, on which online anonymity is on a rapid decline,replaced by physical world identity and existing laws viewed more than capable of dealing with these sociopaths, a democratic government should even be thinking of regulating content on web. It is not as if the governments are as helpless or even honest. One just needs to go through Google Transparency Report to get a glimpse of what exactly Kapil Sibal's guidelines for social media really means. 



In 2009 Google launched Google Transparency Report publishing on the web statistics on the number of content removal requests and user data requests every country has made to it and how it has addressed them. It even offers raw data to let users make in-depth analysis.  For example the chart below shows the number of times governments of different countries have requested Google for user data and/or removal and the number of times Google has complied. Interestingly India takes the second place! 




Since India does have an IT law in place , one would expect the Courts to have asked the search giant for information during the course of a trial but a break-up of the report reveals that mere 6 requests have come from Court order, rest were executive orders out of which only 1 was related to national security while roughly 255 items were asked to be removed because of government criticism ! 









It is time, Kapil Sibal, the government and the political class understand that one of the reasons that the world wide web is ubiquitous in our lives today, is the fact that it is free from governmental control and censorship. Those in politics and/or in power, and many other believe that leadership and authority are indispensable for any and every group of individuals to exist, even if there is no physical interaction, crowd by itself cannot even sustain self. This remained the general belief even if the Delphi Method devised by Project RAND revealed that decisions taken by structured group of individuals are more likely to be correct than otherwise. However, success of world wide web changed the paradigm completely, It showed that far from falling apart, groups of  people,collaborating over the Internet made a huge impact,.Linux was a shining example.


Wisdom of the Crowds and the concept of radical trust form an important part of the Web 2.0 meme. The Wikipedia is perhaps the best example of both; the wisdom of crowds and radical trust (I agree, politicians can never understand the latter concept :P )  Either ways, it is quite clear that it was users who made the web what it is today, government officials should have no jurisdiction over it, which means they may restrain people from indulging in certain behavior but they cannot impose or suggest rules to social networks without subverting our democratic foundation. There is no doubt that there are mischievous elements on web, propagating hatred,insulting individuals and communities (the category I call smut pirates) but if Mr Sibal were on web, he would have known how small the span of attention of a typical user is. If some people like to spend their time reviling a known personality,it is best to leave them alone, the web accommodates people from every segment, be it the Al-Qaida, Russian mafia, research scholars, blue-collar professionals , students and casual users without getting entangled in each others' worlds. 


 If Kapil Sibal has found something really unacceptable he can very well take legal action or use the same platform to discredit it but what he should understand is that the web is self-regulated, criticism of government is NOT against people's sensibilities.
 (to be continued ,may be. As for now investigation the following phrases should keep you occupied ;)


   

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