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Mainstream media websites are obsessed with the outdated idea of not linking out to content. This is a tactic from the last decade and serves no useful purpose. The lack of adequate education of journalists fails to leverage the medium in some miserly reluctance to acknowledge. We also see it in the reporting of sources as "a news channel" rather than naming the source and crediting it.

Good digital journalism, on the contrary provides robust linking to sources for the story, relevant information that add dimension to it for the curious reader to develop a larger picture.

In an age when search engines and social networks are all set to control visibility on the internet, your voice is only as independent as the neutrality with which it will reach people and the government has undisclosed deals with those controlling the internet.

Even as alarm grows over the shrinking neutrality of the internet, I see very few efforts in Indian media to counter it.

My suggestion is that upcoming digital media - particularly news and opinion - with the highest risk of censorship through visibility molding future proof themselves with enhanced linking to each other, to sources, smaller blogs and creating a network of links between excellent content. Particularly content that is at risk of being silenced.

It helps the reader form a more comprehensive view if a dialogue can be built across opinion pieces, enhancing, refuting, adding dimension and generally refining and taking public opinion to more nuanced views than all sites publishing their own mandatory "one excellent opinion piece oncurrent national outrage" - or for that matter, building a dialogue within your sites too.

This above is particularly important to counter growing repression, arbitrarily curtailed rights, narrowed thinking and kneejerkism shrinking the space for depth and richness in public thinking. Naturally, this is stupidifying society and needs combating unless we want to spiral into oblivion riding frustrations and snap judgments.

This is useful today, but it will be desperately required in our future for survival itself. It is a heads up and a suggestion. If you think it has merit, you could use it as you see fit.

Don't remain at the mercy of gatekeepers of access setting up their shops.

It is probably a good idea to go back to good old blogging ethics of forming communities, building dialogue.

On its 8th birthday, Twitter has announced a tool to see first tweet from their account. I was wondering why people were retweeting a 2097 day old post with a link that didn't even exist anymore.

This is not the historic old post immortalized in my first Tweet on Twitter, but it sure beats curious people clicking to read it and finding a 404 page.

I don't recall what I had written in the original post. Probably a mix of curiosity and a token announcement of trying out a new social networking platform, but I had joined Twitter with some curiosity and expectation of getting a small audience of a hundred or so people for this blog. Twitter has greeted me with open arms and 14k followers and growing.

Whatever I wrote at that time, Twitter has since given me an audience and companionship that has endured the years! I have found an interested, engaged audience, support in dark times, cheers for my joys, affection, information, learning and met so many people, I can't even imagine the person I'd be without their influence on my thoughts. Not just a social media site, but a constant stream of ideas that enriches my life daily. Twitter.

Happy 8th Birthday Twitter!!! Love you.

5

Yesterday when I wrote the article saying that Arun Jaitley sending the notice to the blogger Prashant Panday was a good thing, I came across a couple of immediate condemnations regarding how Barkha Dutt got criticized for the same. It is hardly a new thing for the distinctions between free speech and slander to be erased in an attempt to defend favorites and I find myself in a lonely battle making all kinds of distinctions that perhaps we as a country are not ready for.

This post is not about the law. I'm neither a lawyer nor a judge. This post is about my interest in seeing freedoms upheld as well as accountability. And I think Arun Jaitley sending a notice to Prashant Panday cannot simply be bundled with Barkha Dutt sending notice to Chetan Kunte and one "good" or "bad" be applied to both. I don't think the law pulls such stunts either, considering that we continue to try cases individually.

There is a school of thought that appears to think that if accountability for his words can be expected from Prashant Panday, then why not from Chetan Kunte. Well, I suppose if the issue is of suing for defamation. anyone can send a notice to anyone. In fact, I don't even believe anything bad needs to have been said. If you want to send a notice, your sanity might be under question if you send it without reason, but no one is going to dispute your "right" to send it. So let us get that out of the way. Legally, I suppose both the cases are "equal" and whoever was here to only be reassured of that can quit reading at this point.

That said, I am not sure having an opinion on a person's actions rather than claiming facts is defamation. Which is essentially what Chetan Kunte had done in his article titled "Shoddy Journalism". To quote the beautiful wikileaks who preserved the statement he was forced to publish on the blog, if not the original post, he was specifically taking back the following:

* a lack of ethics, responsibility and professionalism by Ms. Dutt and NDTV Limited;
* that Ms. Dutt and NDTV's reporting at the scene of the Mumbai attacks during November 2008, resulted in jeopardizing the safety and lives of civilians and / or security personnel caught up in and / or involved in defending against the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008;
* that Ms. Dutt was responsible for the death of Indian Servicemen during the Kargil Conflict.

This, being extremely specific quotes in lawereese, I assume came from the notice that told him exactly how he could get rid of the monster threat riding his back  by publishing what he was told.

Now here is the interesting thing. I have no idea how Barkha Dutt and NDTV are certain the terrorists and Pakistan Army did NOT get information that allowed them to target Indian forces from either "Ms Dutt" or "NDTV Limited". It would hardly be the first time criminals used news coverage for information. Even if care was taken, Kunte is unlikely to have known that (nor has any media management to prevent information leaks in initial period been claimed, even in hindsight), so what Kunte published, he still published believing it to be true.

This cannot be called defamation. It is commentary and criticism of security risk. He saw TV and thought he was getting information that was sensitive and wrote that and criticized what he saw as a lack of judgment. I will concede that it is highly unlikely that Barkha Dutt or NDTV *wanted* to jeopardize anyone. But one cannot say what the terrorists used for information or how they interpreted it to declare so confidently that the reporting did not result in intel either.

With this logic, NDTV should not run talk shows that have people claiming that someone is guilty of something at all. This would probably include not criticizing the government, not calling Modi responsible for deaths in Gujarat and God only knows what else. So clearly there is a standard being applied specifically to the hapless blogger that they do not follow themselves. Even standard disclaimers of opinions not belonging to the channel would not make sense, since clearly the channel saw fit to broadcast them to millions of viewers - a call the speaker did not make. And channels officially cross lines too. For sensation (translates to money). For example:

In a far more serious accusation, Afzal Guru's lawyer famously wrote to NDTV:

"Your repeated news bulletins over two days reduced the issue of the hanging of Afzal and his Mercy Petition pending with the President to a very simplistic solution "Show repeatedly the video tape (an unlawful piece of evidence) of the alleged confession of Afzal recorded in police custody as breaking news, convince the viewers that it has brought out the ultimate truth, ask them to send SMS messages to NDTV conveying their opinions about the "—Phansi" (hanging) of Afzal, and then pour out the "—collective opinion" gathered in this manner to pave the way for the prompt hanging of Afzal."What a simple, quick solution of an issue involving the life and death of a citizen!"

This could actually have lost a man his life by mobilizing a lynch mob of opinion that made hanging him a security and political survival requirement rather than the merit of his petition. The tape that was broadcast was set aside by the court. Afzal Guru is on record saying that he was made to say those things by the police under threat to his family. It cannot be called a requirement of reporting, since the news was the petition and not evidence that the court had rejected. Nor could years old footage be called "news". And it was a completely deliberate set of actions aimed at influencing the result. Can't be called "collecting public opinion" if the information fed to them before they state their opinion has been struck down by the court.

Note: This is an example of how defamation with very serious consequences can look like. To have a problem with Afzal Guru, go to an older article and argue there.

To stretch the issue still further, Chetan Kunte was a nobody with a reach of maybe a few hundred people. Off the top of my head, I can think of several people whose words reach millions who have not pulled punches criticizing Barkha Dutt including some far more serious allegations related with what became troll fodder as "Barkhagate". I do not wish to reproduce them here, because the point here is not listing out criticism of Barkha Dutt, only saying that it exists and in my view, Chetan Kunte was an easy target to string up as an example.

The price he paid? His entire blog is gone. Fear. To get into legal confrontation with a top media personality and channel was likely way beyond his reach.

But going beyond all that, to some views on censorship and equality...

In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.

~ Anatole France

The law may be equal for all, but the very nature of it can be discriminatory and being written by powerful people, is usually more sensitive to their problems and insensitive to the problems of those who were not involved in the writing of the laws. For example, if you had a law against owning more than two cars, you wouldn't have too many poor people violating it.

I think it works on an intellectual level too. In a country where education does not even passingly touch important intellectual skills like logical reasoning or distinguishing between fact and opinion, there are very few with the skills to be compliant with the fine line between criticism and defamation. I would channel Katju here for a minute and claim that less than one percent of people actually have the ability to analyze and articulate themselves with the precision that can express themselves without doing wrong to another with refined nuance.

And the 99% who cannot include highly educated people and politicians too. Which is how rape after rape has people seemingly blaming women for it, when reading their words carefully makes an empathetic person realize that they are raising concerns about the inherent exploitation in the evolving stereotype of modern beauty that has women at risk because of catering to the male gaze in a highly normalized sexual objectification. They have no expression for it beyond describing the clothes, which is too broad and mangles the subject beyond sanity, but they are people who have seen it from close and they understand the danger, which has top policemen, teachers, politicians and parents ignoring all precedents of ridicule to voice it anyway.

It is no different with blogs. Boggers, tweeters... they feel. They write. They may not always have the refinement that is desirable, but in my view, inaccurate expression beats silence by a wide margin. It is primitive, undifferentiated, block like thinking that says all people who don't support X are supporters of Y. It is plain illogical to believe that everyone who agrees with us is noble and there is some evil entity going around paying people to disagree with us. Whatever. It is most certainly insulting to be called a slut for having a political view. At the same time, to make it more than it is - unrefined, clumsy expression - to me is discrimination, because there are few with the life experiences that would have brought them refinement in a world of institutionalized stupidity. To me, targeting the wrongs of their expressions while ignoring the concerns they are voicing is a bit like not hiring a low caste person for his looks or accent.

To expect the same refinement from anyone with an internet connection that frankly journaists don't always achieve in spite of it being a professional requirement, is plain discrimination, though the law will support suing anyone by strict standards. A line comes to mind from some romance nove i read:

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

On the other hand, it is also true that public figures, figures who introduce ideas that disturb, because they are new or cause us to question ourselves, people who take responsibility for collectives and cannot accommodate every interest.... such people also suffer extraordinary hostility expressed as criticism, accusation or slander. And surely they cannot be expected to be superhuman enough to always live thinking about the larger picture and never give in to the simple need to hit back in irritation or defense.

It is not a monolith. I think it is a world of conversations. The more we have, the better it is for us all. The less we attempt to overpower, the more diversity can thrive.

But then, that is my opinion.

It is also my opinion that everyone has the right to act with the freedoms available to them, and if such a freedom means that justice to the wrong experienced to the self needs a notice, so be it.

 

If you were reading with the expectation of "one right answer", sorry, but I don't have one.

24

Last Christmas morning London was surprised to see Eid trending ahead of Christmas in twitter. Later it turned to be the work of an Islamic right wing group. Right wing groups can organize and mobilize far better than others, and the misinformed tend to be militant. In India, communalism and secularism have been extremely politicized to a stage where political parties openly defend riots for electoral engineering. Online, ‘Internet Hindus’ came into being before broadband internet became common. (Still the state with highest internet penetration records only 3% penetration).

While BJP has been trying to project itself as a modern right wing party, its vote base has been what it achieved during Ayodhya movement. Being able to provide an alternative to the Congress helped BJP to grow further. Being unable to reach that separation from the right wing extremists that brought it to power the last two times has left it in a precarious position. Party with a difference became a party with differences. Since the people rejected its divisive communalism after Gujarat riots, it has been hard for BJP to establish its media presence. National media distanced from the Hindutva ideology. Attacks by police on media personnel didn't help matters.

B Raman's observations on BJP strategies to regain its media presence are fascinating. They believed media didn’t give enough space for their ideology (or wanted better coverage anyway). The rise of social media was a new beginning, and the right wing decided to focus much of its energy on consolidating control of social media. Kanchan Gupta is believed to be the ‘chef de mission’ and the one to successfully organize a network for the saffron pariwar. But beyond the agenda, it evolved to a group for pushing Narendra Modi as PM for 2014. A sudden epidemin of anonymous handles appeared in twitter; showering abuse on each and every one whomever they found contradicting their ideology. Dissent was labeled ‘Korrupt Congressi’. Supporters of the party with the majority were dubbed anti-nationals by a party that lost two consecutive elections. Logic stopped mattering. It was a war of dominance.

They created a system of social censorship in twitter using abusive trolling and twitter trend defamation, labeled according to taste. Notable and influential people got attacked. Defaming information was spread about them. Articles against their interest were countered with a series of replies or blogs. Also personal attacks were launched on those writers and those who liked their work. The same people who perfected the art of troubling with defamatory suits perfected the art of abuses to mute opinion. Many accounts were blocked by those who got trolled, only for new handles to be spawned.

They blackmailed the media to fall in with their agenda with a high decibel negative campaign with their mobilized workers. The think-tanks used the mobilized trolls as vectors of the information to spread for the crowd sourcing journalists to win mainstream media presence. Manipulating the initial reaction, deliberate misinterpretation followed by organized mud slinging and derailing debates that were disadvantageous to them were important roles played by this virtual army. This was magnified by innocent people convinced by their campaigns to create a loose knit community of extremist thought that thrives on polarization and has very low analytical skills as a group, usually fed subtle “insights” by leaders. When expressed in 140 characters the truth was missing in trends. As a strategy, this was fairly effective. They used their network to aggravate the negativity of their opposition and alleviate the impacts of its own negativity.

Psywar tactics.

Casual observation over time seemed to point to this agenda:

Media should become resistant to negatives of Modi and his positives must get more coverage in MSM

Create disillusionment and fatigue among netizens with the current political system to a stage, where Modi’s authoritarian style of leadership is accepted by the educated youth. Better still, sold as the “lesser evil” - the only thing that can fix existing problems.

Channelize outrage among people and extract maximum political mileage from it. Impressive organization fuels this with data to support only the view they wish to showcase.

Keep the ideologically opposite liberals under check and systematically silence by creating fear or nuisance to the point of dysfunction.

Another strategy to combat dissent seems to be swarming the target person and overwhelming with many token challenges. They don't stand to scrutiny, but cannot all be answered because of the sheer number – this can then be presented as “having no reply to the truth” - a kind of human DdoS.

Attack political rivals, devalue them in public opinion by making them the brunt of ridicule trends. This became easier because the congress is yet to have a social media cell, though stray people irate with the nuisance or attacks on themselves now seem to be self-organizing. So sometimes you have troll wars 😀

The network has been used for vicious misinformation campaigns that create and sustain communal polarization. Many usually neutral commentators B Raman, Vidyut, Sonali Ranade, Shivam Vij, others openly criticized abusive trolling strategies in social media. Some use wit and facts to combat and turn their methods into an expose of them. Others block or ignore. Tired with trolls, Salil Tripathy sarcastically changed his twitter bio with the labels he received from them
“CryptoMuslim gutter intellectual/Italian Mafia Sepoy/green terrorist+westernized leftist thug+braincell deficit Hindu hater”

Namitha Bhandare wrote a brilliant column on abusive trolls. It spread rapidly on Twitter with enough people frustrated with the trolls. The right wing launched an attack on her which have not stopped yet (check this google result for a snapshot view of the method and madness).

============ guest post by Aby Hydros, edited by Vidyut ==============

It is very common to have selfish, ignorant people who would not like to know about the suffering of anyone keep talking about how "outraging on Twitter achieves nothing". Their oblivious state registers no information flows, public opinions formed, or help offered and received. They have decided that help is not this, and that is that.

While they are responsible for their own lack of insight and observation, this is a good time to point out the obvious.

  • Each person has their own account and are free to use them how they like. How I run my account is my business. You like, you subscribe, you don't like, you don't subscribe, you are unbearably offended by me saying whatever I want to say, you block. That is the extent of your rights regarding my account. Therefore, going on and on about disapproval is nothing but spiteful, juvenile trolling.
  • If you look beyond your tiny little interest space, which seems to be the only valid use of social networking in your view, there are a whole lot of other uses. From businesses offering support to activists in countries with severe censorship of media quickly getting news out.
  • About  human rights - the subject that seems to offend these obnoxious royals the most: There are a whole lot of other people beyond you. Political leaders, bureaucrats, journalists, bloggers, social workers, NGOs, activists, people interested in news about human rights, people needing help.... They connect. Many useful things emerge.
  • Journalists and politicians get direct access to views of people. If you outrage on something, it means that something is hurting your interests, and on social media, your hurt matters.
  • All sides of different issues find voice, which is invaluable in helping people understand situations better and make more informed choices that are likely to accommodate the interests of more people - precious in a diverse democracy like ours. Good example would be the Janlokpal campaign, or the objections raised to recent raids on pubs and bars. The ability to hold multiple sides of an issue creates precious space for reconciliation.

Here is how outrage on Twitter has directly influenced many happenings in the world:

  1. Last year's uprisings. From the Janlokpal movement to Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring. Sharing of views and influencing opinions and organizing was heavily facilitated by social media. Yes, the Kashmir protests too.
  2. Lost people found, lost animals found, blood donations organized and in one case, even a kidnapping prevented.
  3. Attention to human rights abuses forces politicians and bureaucrats to take notice and act. Latest example being the Guwahati molestation, but there really are countless examples here.
  4. Awareness of issues of grave wrongs that media normally does not cover. Often, this awareness leads to media coverage. Examples on this blog are Keenan and Reuben murders, Naina Singh's murder.
  5. Those without voice being heard: As the internet penetration improves, it is helping... particularly social networks are helping people who are marginalized get their voices heard. Google CGNet Swara for an example.

This list can go on and on, but the point is made.

Do not make the mistake of thinking words are only so much air. Words are ideas. Yours may be worthless according to you, but there is more to the world than you. You may find mine worthless, but then it is highly unlikely that I have pinned my hopes on your comprehension or empathy.

Therefore, to mind your own business and not try to censor people with taunts, sarcasm or trolling.