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- Written by Eman Jueid
- Category: Featured Partner: elan Magazine
Across the border in India, the situation isn’t much different. In 2010 Google released statistics on governments who asked the search engine to remove content; India was quite high on the list, with the majority of blocks being put up against websites that criticized the government. Just last week India’s minister of IT had a round table with Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, urging the internet giants to come up with a mechanism to curb content that can hurt “religious sentiments.”
Now, this isn’t just an issue of corruptive government policies. This is an issue of deep-rooted cultural norms that are alive and thriving in the underbelly of every socio-cultural institution that exists within South Asian countries. Censorship is a core belief and widely accepted practice in South Asian culture. It exists in every facet of daily life. “Elders” are assumed to know what is best, whether or not they have the credentials to prove so. Industry consultant Eugene M. Makar says “traditional Indian culture is defined by a relatively strict social hierarchy, from an early age children are reminded of their roles and places in society”, a point of view that seems to mirror the government’s relationship with its citizens on some levels. “Higher-ups” are not questioned, taboo topics, shameful ideas and anything that makes the wholesome lifestyle image uncomfortable is quickly hushed up by sweeping it under the rug. This is thought of as the ideal and most efficient solution to all of life’s woes; to control by silencing instead of facing. It’s the just-make-it-go-away strategy, a radical spin off of “ignorance is bliss.’ However this philosophy is becoming increasingly irrelevant to a newer generation of South Asians who view something like Internet access as their “fundamental right.” The Society for Human Resource Management states that “social change in India is in dramatic contrast to the expectations from traditional Indian culture.”
The Internet is a unique challenge for societies such as these. With access to information, it is becoming increasingly hard to tell people what they should think and ensure it by cutting off access to any and all alternatives. In essence this approach is very demeaning in that it reduces the populace to a group of children who cannot decide for themselves whether or not to look at something. Once you have discredited people to the point where their content is dictated to unsavory content blocked, don’t be surprised that the result of this with holding is that they pursue it all the more. It is a fact that after certain sites were blocked, their popularity actually increased.
The point is blocking in general does not solve anything. Alternatively, people should reserve the right and hone the ability to filter their own content as a natural human quality. For countries that hold their traditions in such esteem it shouldn’t be too much to ask that they allow these very traditions to do their job. If it is moral values that are at stake then what is more sensible then to encourage individuals to develop their own in grown criteria to combat offensive material, as what is deemed “offensive” is a very personal thing. When government institutions get heavily involved in this and try to define its parameters, questions arise; who defines what is offensive? Is there some benchmark against which content is judged and rated for offensiveness? Who sets the bench mark and how? Based on what and whose values? Do we assume that the entire populace has the same values or is a way of imposing a set system of them on the masses? Is it even possible for institutions to do this in a non-biased way? Again, we see culture seeping in here, where conformity is the encouraged way of life. Even in this, contradictions will arise; some components of South Asian society may find Bollywood’s films like, Munni, Sheila, and Chickni Chameli offensive but try censoring them! Just as one has the option to flip the switch on these, so do they have the option to click away offensive internet content. Those who don’t want to watch have the ability and right to turn away and those who do will find a way to do so in any case.
The impulsive censoring of websites is an unhealthy government practice as it defeats its’ own purpose by drawing attention to the very content it hopes to hide and with such open ended reach, the possibilities of abuse are staggering. It is a case of the losses grossly outweighing the benefits.By Summer Yasmin, Elan Magazine
This content is provided courtesy of Elan Magazine
*Photo Credit: Wonderlane
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