Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

I don’t know what it was that the young lady from a Mumbai college did to get herself expelled, but whatever it was, I think the punishment was a bit too harsh. Suspending her for being an administrator of a confessions page could have been the appropriate thing to do, if at all.

From what I’ve read in yesterday’s Hindustan Times, the student was expelled because she was the administrator of a Confessions page started by students of the college. The college authorities believed that neither the institution nor the staff should have been maligned on the page and took objection to it. They decided to teach her a lesson. Again, I am only going by newspaper reports, but I do think it was a bit harsh, and the reaction to it as overly dramatic, as the incident in Palghar some months ago when two girls were arrested for posting something on Facebook during Balasaheb Thackeray’s funeral.

Just a couple of weeks back students of a media college, where I take classes, opened a Confessions page. I love reading what these youngsters have to say about life and a lot else and I have often commented as well. There have been times, when I’ve felt the urge to put my comments down in “their language” with the A, B and C in the right place! I’ve refrained from doing so, purely because I realise that what I say as their teacher could have its repurcussions.

Anyway, I went on this Confessions page and found some really nasty comments about people’s sexual orientations and these kids were named in these updates. I was appalled. Whether it was fact or fiction and whether X was a lesbian, Y a homosexual and Z a transgender was an extremely personal issue and no one had the right to flog it on a social networking site. Worse, there were some factually incorrect statements made by some students, which maligned some members of the faculty, again anonymously.

I registered my protest on the page and from there, others picked it up. Then a post written by an anguished student Sheikh Rehmatullah, questioned the need for such a page and the kind of scurrilous content it was propagating. Another faculty member posted her response to it and suddenly the shit hit the fan.

Rehmatullah asked for my comment and I responded. I agreed with most of what he said. My reply to a faculty member (since she berated me for being diplomatic!) was that students need to let off steam, so I didn’t have a problem with the page per se, as long as there was someone filtering it, which in this case, seemed unlikely. If there was, he or she was either nodding off on the job or was finding the deluge of updates too much to handle.

These are 17/18-year-olds, and they can hardly be expected to behave like 35-year-olds, but some of the updates were downright defamatory. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many students voicing their opinion, some quite vehemently, against the page. And most blasted the rude, crude and extremely insulting anonymous updates. Then one smart kid decided to post an anonymous message from “The Director” and I remember saying “This is what I mean by self censorship” or some such thing. I believe the page was pulled off a few hours later.

Cloaked in the garb of anonymity, you cannot say anything you want and get away with it. And mind you, unlike the girl who was expelled from the college in Mumbai, these kids are media students, who should understand restraint and practice some form of self censorship.

Unfortunately, many of today’s media students (and I stress on ‘media’) believe freedom of expression means NO restrictions. I have no argument with students from any other colleges who wish to vent their spleen against college, professors, government, politician, friend or foe. But I do believe that such liberties are not applicable to media students. They need to understand that in the profession they are in, it is imperative they stop and think of the reactions their actions could provoke. on a larger canvas. If they still think ‘viva la revolution’ is the answer to all ills, they are in the wrong world.

In newspapers during editorial meetings, people raise objections to a point in a story and argue over it. Sometimes one argues that the report is half-baked forcing it to be put in cold storage. In journalism classes I have spoken of checks and double checks on a controversial story to ensure there are no loose ends, which could come back and bite one in the ass! We even consult lawyers on the newspaper’s payroll to confirm whether we can carry a report without inviting a lawsuit. We don’t publish just anything. Sometimes we may err on the side of caution, but then it is better to do that, than be forced to print an apology the next day. I’ve seen national newspapers carrying front page apologies for stories done, where they accept that they hadn’t got their facts right.

We love to talk about the American or the British media, but even they have some form of self censorship, and it is something my young friends in media schools need to learn. It’s not a ‘free’ world as everyone would have us believe. The sooner some media students understand that, the better their future…


News just in is that the Prime Minister is planning a new ministry and it is going to be named the Union Ministry for Propaganda, to be headed by Dr. Kapil Sibal with Shashi Tharoor as his Minister of State. The job of this ministry will be to ensure that any online content that criticises the First Family and the Prime Minister will first be sent for screening to the ministry concerned, and heads of these portals will be put in jail for even accepting such stuff. Just kidding, just kidding….

But what is not one bit funny is the UPA government asking google, Facebook, Yahoo and others to censor content, to supposedly protect the ‘fair’ name of the Gandhi-Nehru family and others among their list of favourites, who are constantly being lampooned on the Internet. Even more appalling is Sibal’s very Goebbelsian remark that “They will have to give us this data, where these images are being uploaded and who is doing it.”

Sibal seemed a nice chap, so what got into him all of a sudden? Is he trying to upstage his good friend Digvijaya Singh, who till now had excelled in shooting his mouth off, or is he trying to ingratiate himself to the First Family or is he trying appease his and the party’s vote-bank? OR is he trying the age old ruse of diverting the attention of the public at large from ticklish issues like FDI in retail, Lokpal Bill, 2G, CWG etc? So he now wants to “define” what we can say and in the same breath says he respects the freedom of expression! Bit of an oxymoron isn’t it?

Does his ranting have anything to do with the videos floating around that question the financial dealings of certain members of the First Family? Frankly, if the people who find themselves in these videos feel they are being defamed or maligned they should ask the website to pull them off and sue, if they think that would serve the purpose. I think that is justified. But to do what Sibal is suggesting websites do, is stretching it a bit much.

Amitabh Bachchan sued a Swedish newspaper that published reports about his and his brother’s links with Bofors, and won. Whether people believed they were involved or not, the Bachchans believed they were not and sued. The paper retracted the stories, apologised and paid the Bachchans for the damage caused to their reputation. Let the people who feel they are being maligned do the same.

Sibal has also outdone himself by his latest harangue on what he claims is ‘objectionable’, ‘blasphemous’ and ‘derogatory’ comments on the Internet. Who decides what is ‘objectionable’ ‘blasphemous’ and ‘derogatory’ and how?

And can he define what is blasphemous? If he is so concerned about it, why doesn’t he also ask social networking sites to pull down all the anti-India – and more specifically anti-Hindu – rhetoric that’s floating around, most of which emanate from a few neighbouring countries. They have been around for ages, how come no one from the government thought of complaining to Facebook about them? Why has his government never attempted to block those sites? Is it because it suits them to drive a deeper wedge between the two communities, and in doing so appease the party’s vote-bank?

I thought this government had learnt its lessons from the Emergency, when the prince and his henchmen tried to subvert democracy and a free press, by having secretaries sitting in newsrooms of newspapers vetting copies or confiscating film reels. Even the great ‘democrat’ Atal Bihari Vajpayee along with his trusted lieutenant Brajesh Mishra was not averse to using strong-arm tactics to rein in the media when they wanted to. But Sibal has taken this quite a few steps higher.

In 1962 during the Chinese invasion the press roasted the prime minister for his decisions and his blind faith in his defence minister. He was advised to muzzle the Press, but he refused saying that a free press was the very essence of democracy and if he were to black out the press he would never know what the people felt about him and his government. That Prime Minister was Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, one of the founders of the Congress party that harps on his name and ideals even today.

To end on a humorous note, a Russian tourist, on his first visit to the USA in the 1960s checked into a hotel and asked his American host what the TV was doing in his room. The American told him,” We have television sets in every hotel room, which beam over 50 channels. And we watch all of them”

The surprised Russian remarked, “Back home in Moscow, we too have a television set in every hotel room. Only IT watches you.”

Time for a statutory warning?

Posted: October 12, 2010 in blogging
Tags: , ,

Facebook India users who indulge in personal and defamatory attacks and post offensive messages could face punishment up to three years under the various sections of the Information Technology Act. “

Will social networking sites, taking a leaf out of tobacco companies’ books, post such a warning on their sites, sometime in the future?

One of my former bosses once gave me some advice which I have never forgotten. He was talking of the importance of the ‘send’ button on a keyboard of the computer. He said whenever you are angry about something or someone (even if it may be your immediate superior or even your boss) and want to fire a mail to someone in authority, go ahead and write it. But don’t send it. Instead, he advised, save it in the Drafts folder and let it lie there till you cool down.

He believed that we often write things in the heat of the moment that we end up regretting it a few minutes later. In the case of an email there is no time for regret. Once you click on the ‘send’ button it’s gone and then you’re left to perspire over the consequences. So why not just wait for things to cool down. If you think you still feel strongly about the issue and want to send the mail, go ahead by all means. So write it, save it but don’t send it, was his advice.

So it does make me wonder how people are so itchy-fingered when it comes to posting offensive messages and emails, without considering the implications. When they are hauled up they fall back on the tried and tested “I’m sorry, it was done in the heat of the moment. It won’t happen again.” If someone feels strongly about something why not go up to the relevant authority and discuss it or in that case send an email requesting an appointment to discuss the issue?

Which bring me to an interesting report in today’s DNA on page 9, that talks about whether a student can be held guilty for posting profane messages against a teacher on social networking sites. No say child rights groups. Yes say lawyers, quoting the IT Act.

The DNA report states that a Chandigarh school suspended 16 students for three months after they had posted offensive messages and pictures of a teacher on Facebook. Child rights groups are, of course, up in arms against this decision. They believe children should be counselled when they do such things, because a lot of things are done without malicious intent and are just an outlet for their frustration. I’m okay with that, because I know a lot of children do things without thinking and social networking sites like Facebook have given kids the kind of freedom to express themselves in so many ways that we never had in our days.

Child rights groups believe a student has the right to air his or her grievances against a teacher, institution and the system, while lawyers quote Section 66 of the IT ACT which can send an offender to jail for three years. This particular IPC section was probably formulated to check transgressions by company employees and not minors, but the fact that it’s there should by act as a deterrent. But it doesn’t. Numerous companies have today blocked access to personal emails and social networking sites at the workplace. Companies like Infosys are monitoring comments on social networking sites, and employees who rant about their managers can face disciplinary action.

Today Facebook or Orkut has become an extension of a friend and confidante, with a really big mouth! Apart from the sometimes downright rude updates, I also read stuff like “In a relationship” or “In a confused/complicated relationship” etc. Does the world need to know? Updates on social networking sites have all kinds of stuff – from rude messages to poetry to short stories to nasty cracks against the administration. The strange thing is that most of these comments are from people aged 18-25. And some of them are quite funny.

To an extent, I’m fine with this too. There are times when one needs to unwind. We also need to keep pace with technology and as parents and teachers we also need to understand where our children are headed! So far so good! But school children are those under the age of 18. What does one do when those above the voting age indulge in such indiscreet behaviour?