There is a proverbial saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. Well, the trend today is such, that internet has become more of a necessity rather than a luxury. Take for instance the thousands of app based cab operators who got stranded between hope and anxiety for a period of 9 days when there was a total shutdown of internet in Assam and parts of North- East from December 11 – December 19. Anxiety that what would happen if services are not resumed soon and hope that it would. Who will compensate these poor folks for their loses that has accumulated to the tune of thousands of rupees, add on to it house rent, car EMI and day to day expenses. It’s an internet-centric business today and the internet shutdown has affected other aspects of daily life in Assam too — apart from the numerous app-based livelihoods like food delivery, academicians and students, many of whom had exams coming up, bore the brunt of the blackout. For many unlucky students, the shutdown happened during the middle of their exams, and internet today is considered as a major source of information. Yes! Colleges and universities do have libraries, but this entire generation is ‘digital’. Sadly enough, turning analog is no longer an option.
To err is human. Agreed. But whether the impact of the misdeeds of a handful of unscrupulous nefarious elements of the society should be felt by the remaining section? We are in such a phase of our economic identity where business anyways has come to a halt. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew 4.5 per cent in the second quarter of FY20, data released by the government showed, marking the slowest expansion in 26 quarters. In gross value added terms, the economy grew at 4.3 percent compared to 4.9 percent in the previous quarter. In the current GDP series, the lowest growth rate recorded was 4.3 percent in the fourth quarter of FY13. The growth rate for the second quarter of FY20 is the lowest since then. Adding to the woes of the common man, the government had imposed a ban on the internet services, making it practically impossible for banking transactions, in the process only piling up the whim of desperation. Will mitigation of losses be non-arbitrarily done? No points for guessing.
Not everyone uses internet to entice violence. India is a democratic country and the constitution gives every Indian citizen equal opportunity to voice their concern albeit in a peaceful manner. I have been vocal about the misuse of social media earlier also. My article titled “Social media: harbinger of devilish propaganda?” published in The Assam Tribune dated 26/3/19 spoke at length about the Christchurch massacre and how it was live streamed through social media. My question then was also about the incapability of technology to curb the menace of showcasing violence, my question now is also about the same. Simply put forward, why can’t there be a full-proof system to filter out pictures and videos which spread violence and negativity. If reports are to be believed, in a statement, Facebook said that anyone sharing ‘violating content’ like a statement from a terrorist group without context would be blocked from using Facebook Live for a set period, such as 30 days. The company will also extend these new restrictions to other areas of the platform in the coming weeks, including to advertisers. Facebook has also pledged $7.5m (£5.8m) towards new research partnerships to automatically detect banned content, after some users bypassed existing detection systems by uploading edited versions of the Christchurch attacks. “Our goal is to minimize risk of abuse on Live while enabling people to use Live in a positive way every day,” the statement said. If whatever Facebook has said is true, then where is the need to impose an internet ban, considering that this is what authorities fear will happen if a ban is not imposed. On the contrary, if Facebook and other social media platforms are still not being able to provide efficient use of technology, then authorities concerned should ban these platforms instead of suspending entire internet services. An employee of a company could not mark his attendance because of this ban. A passenger got stranded at the airport because of this ban. A student could not continue his online class because of this ban. A person away from home could not order food because of this ban. A lone income member of a family could not send money back home because of this ban. These are just a few of the examples of the hardships that we common men had to face. Not all use internet for destructive intension, some, rather most use it for constructive purpose also. In this era of digitization, social media is a platform to raise one’s concern and any whimsical farce by the people in power will only add on to the identity crisis.
Call it an apathy that only after the intervention of the Gauhati High Court, that the internet services were resumed in the state. A division bench of Justices Manojit Bhuyan and Saumitra Saikia gave the direction after hearing four PILs filed by journalist Ajit Kumar Bhuyan, and advocates Bonoshri Gogoi, Randeep Sharma and Debakanta Doley. This trend of internet ban is now catching up fast with authorities in Prayagraj and Delhi following under the footprints of their Assamese counterparts. The logic to do so though might sound sane but the bigger question lies in the fact that why such a situation arose in the first place itself. Freedom of speech is a basic right and internet today has become the medium of expression. Curbing this would only add fuel to fire, and authorities concerned will have a tough time to douse the same. Some sensual thought needs to be put into this and every sensitive matter be handled with extreme delicacy by taking the masses into confidence. After all it the people who matters. In the words of E.A. Bucchianeri, “It’s not unpatriotic to denounce an injustice committed on our behalf, perhaps it’s the most patriotic thing we can do.”