Blog and Tweet knives in politics: which is sharper?

In the past one year or so, blogs were seldom used to settle scores. At least not in Indian national scene. Senior politicians would reflect on others' actions and try to justify their own stand on political or social matters. It was time when BJP stalwarts, Advani, Jaitley and Modi wrote good blog posts on myriad matters. Some posts were excellent by all standards. 

In those times, the job of shouting at each other by politicians themselves or their fans or trolls or back-end boys was done through Twitter.

Now we might see a new trend. Politicians, at least of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), are fighting on blogs [Yogendra Yadav, Mayank Gandhi, Rakesh Parikh...]. The pour out their sentiments and disparage those of opponents on their blogs. That has happened in the last one month or so. We think, it might have to wait to become a trend, as no other party is undergoing tumult at present; they all have either total authoritarianism or disarray.

Twitter, as a medium is much more instant. You feel bad and you blurt it out on Twitter. By the time you realise you should not have done that, it already has travelled far. The juicier and destructive the tweet, the more it has chances to go viral. This time, it was the turn of Minister and ex-Chief of Army, VK Singh to rant on Twitter and repent at leisure. Remember his 'disgust', offer to resign and all sorts of rationalisation why he was seen at Pakistan's embassy in Delhi with Kashmiri separatists.

Modi-DickCostoloBut hats off to PM Modi. He had a rather lengthy talk with Twitter chief, Dick Costolo, two days back in which he sought Twitter help in propagating his initiatives for cleanliness, saving and educating girls, etc.
The very next day, his tweets were available through SMS on giving a missed call to 01130063007. Just to update on Modi's Twitter stats, his personal account @NarendraModi has 11 million followers and his official account @PMOIndia has 5.42 million followers.

P.S.: AAP is also teaching Indian politicians the value of stings. For the last two years, its boss, Arvind Kejriwal, has been preaching all citizens to use sting as a weapon to expose misconduct of others; now stings are being used against its party colleagues. The one on Kejriwal himself beats them all: he is heard abusing senior party colleagues. Among social media platforms, that heralds the coming of YouTube for political fights. So, blogs lead to Twitter and then comes YouTube?

Supreme Court strikes down #66A of IT Act: a fact sheet

ITB was waiting with bated breath whether India's Supreme Court strikes down Section 66A of IT Act, 2000. Chances were that it would, and it really did. We are not only relieved, we are rejoicing along with millions of Indians, especially the people active on social media and those who think freedom of speech is essential in a democracy.

In the present post, we bring you some facts verbatim so that you don't have to depend on what newspapers or channels report according to the understanding of their reporters and debaters, and their editorial line.

What is the #66A court case, 'Shreya Singhal vs Union of India'? 

This is a writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. Under this article, an aggrieved person can directly approach the supreme Court or High Courts against infringement of his/ her fundamental rights. The main petition is by Ms. Shreya Singhal and with this, a number of appeals made by others have been clubbed. Petitioners have challenged provisions of some laws that are supposed to go against citizens' freedom of speech and expression granted by Article 19 of the Constitution. 

Does the court verdict scrap IT Act? 

The Supreme Court has struck down Section 66A (while upholding some other sections) of the IT Act, and other acts in question. The judgement is a lengthy one, with 119 paras. The last, summing up, para is given here.

This Section 66A was struck down as it came in conflict with Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. 

What do these Articles say? 

Art. 19(1)(a) is one of the freedoms granted under the Constitution, i.e. freedom of speech and expression:

19. Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc
(1) All citizens shall have the right
(a) to freedom of speech and expression;

Art. 19(2) saves a law from Art. 19(1) when the law is enacted for integrity of India, decency, etc:

section-66A(2) Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause ( 1 ) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

Exactly what was there in Section #66A? 

This Section allowed the police to imprison any person who, in its opinion, sent offensive, menacing, annoying, insulting or similar information through a mobile or IT device. The text of this Section is given here.

This section was inserted into the IT Act in 2009. (It was not there in the original Act.)

Can I now post on the web whatever I want?

A person can still be tried under various provisions of Indian laws. However, the authorities cannot impose 'unreasonable' restrictions on freedom of speech and expression using legal provisions that took cover under Article 19(2).

What is government reaction to the judgement?

The government is yet to come out with a considered response. In a hurriedly called press conference, Minister for IT, Ravi Shankar Prasad, has said that the government supports the judgement; in fact, it had given an affidavit to the court calling for stringent guidelines to curb misuse of the Act.

Wordpress wins legal media challenges continue

Student blogger and Wordpress win against abuse of copyright law

A blogger on Wordpress platform has this month won a legal battle against the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of the US. This is a big win for bloggers as it stops abuse of the copyright law to take down content in the pretext of copyright violation.

The battle ran for two years in California district court.

Blogger Hotham was a student when he posted an interview with the press officer of an anti-gay group, 'Straight Pride UK'. Soon, he received a message from Straight Pride UK warning him to take down the piece within the week. He decided to fight back.

Though the blogger and the group involved were based in the UK, the group sued Wordpress under DMCA. A clause of this law requires web-hosts (e;g; Wordpress, Blogger in the case of free-hosted blogs) to remove content when they are notified that it infringes a third-party's copyright. Wordpress said, no copyright violation had taken place by mere publication of the interview.

Ironically, while Wordpress and Hotham have been awarded costs and more, they are not going to get a penny. The website of Straight Pride UK website has disappeared and the group is unapproachable otherwise too!

It is to be seen whether this win will embolden web-hosts to fight back untenable notices to take down content. 

Student jailed for Facebook comment

On the other side of the globe, in Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, a student has been imprisoned just for sharing a Facebook comment that is seen critical of a controversial but powerful minister. The hugely controversial minister, Azam Khan, justified the jailing of the 11th class student for his crimes: 'promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc', 'intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace' and and 'public mischief'.

Governments aggressively force web-hosts to remove content

Facebook reports that in the second half of 2014, the US and Indian governments made the highest number of requests for user data: US government made over 14 thousand requests and in about 80% cases, the data was provided. Indian government made over 5400 requests and 45% of them were agreed to. Though Facebook didn't block any content in the US, it had to block 5832 pieces of content. Things have only worsened as compared to the past.

Facebook says, as compared to earlier periods, the US is not asking for more restrictions while India is more aggressive. In fact, in the number of total restrictions demanded, Indian government stands on top, as per Facebook data.

PS: The Bombay High Court has said, Cartoonist Aseem (who was charged with sedition, for his cartoons: detailed story here: Cartoonist Hanged) has the freedom of speech and expression though his cartoons lack wit and humour. It said, the government cannot check this freedom for fair criticism unless that leads to violence or public disorder, and cannot just slap a sedition charge.

Bans on social media: what purpose do they serve?

The film 'Daughter of India' is banned in India and yet is available freely on the net. People are crying hoarse that the film tries to put the Indian society in poor light and is insensitive to a girl who was raped and murdered, and why such films must not be shown. On the other hand, a large majority says, banning the film is an attack on the freedom of expression.
BBC website

We bring you the facts and leave you to decide what is good. The only comment we'd make is that banning it has only brought the government in poor light and made the documentary more popular than it should otherwise have been.

#Nirbhaya documentary factsheet

  • In 2012, a girl [now known by 'Nirbhaya', not her real name] was gang-raped and then murdered in Delhi. Mukesh Singh is one convict, awarded capital punishment by the court.
  • In early March 2015, a documentary was made by Leslee Udwin and was slated to be shown on the International Women's Day (March 8) on BBC. The film, 'India's Daughter' chronicles the event and exposes the ugly mindset of the males involved (especially the convict and his lawyer). Mukesh Singh, interviewed in the prison, shows total lack of remorse, saying, had Nirbhaya not resisted them, she would have survived. He also says, she deserved to be taught a lesson.
  • The utterly insensitive statements and what some feel as portraying India as a rape country have lead to a huge hue and cry in India, and Indian government asked BBC not to air the film. BBC went ahead, and showed the film three days in advance.
  • Delhi police lodged an FIR, government banned the film in India, and asked YouTube and other social media platforms to remove the film. A Delhi court upheld the ban and the High Court refused to revoke it. 
  • Nirbhaya's father first said, he has no issues with the film. Later he said, he had asked the film-maker not to make public his daughter's name and photo. His consent was also wrongly used, he hinted.
  • In New York, the film was premiered in front of  famous people. Some of them lambasted Indian government for banning the documentary.  
  • Indian government is being slammed for the ban, especially on the social media. The government says, the documentary producers have violated permissions and the consent of Nirbhaya's parents and the matter is sub judice.
    UK Daughters: equal sufferers
  • The Editors' Guild of India has called the ban 'totally unwarranted'. On social media there are strong voices in favour and against the ban. 
  • A Delhi businessman, miffed with the demonisation of Indian society by the film, has cobbled together a video called 'United Kingdom's Daughters'. Like the other one, this one too has gone viral on the net.
  • The Independent of London carried a very pertinent article on the rape scene in India and the UK, and also seeing a rape documentary from a rape victim's eyes. [Link removed by the Independent later.]

5 reasons you must stop blogging today itself

We have this shocking piece of advice for friends who have 'fallen into' blogging for wrong reasons. 

You will agree that when commitment, focus, proper tools and adequate time and energy are not there, even the best things in the world are likely to fail, and blogging is no exception. So, bloggers, stop blogging if you suffer from any of the following:

1. Someone forced you into blogging but you hate it

You are a kid and your mother feels blogging will improve your writing skills, and you do it though you hate it. Or you are a student who is forced by the teacher to keep your 'student blog' active. Or you blog just to show off your intellect because you fear that otherwise your peers or friends will look down upon you.

In all such situations of forced blogging, your mind and heart will not be into it, and you must quit it and feel relieved. If you cannot leave it, do it at the minimum level that is acceptable, and relieve yourself of the burden. But before leaving it, think twice; this 'forced' blogging too might do you good in the long run.

2. It is a big drain on your time and energy

Some bloggers write posts as if to continuously beat deadlines. They are on a treadmill, getting more and more tired without moving an inch. They feel, they can't cope with it, but need to keep the blog updated and for that they end up 'burning midnight oil'.

If you are one on this treadmill, leave blogging and spend time with your ailing fast friend or in improving your professional skills - whichever need more of your attention than blogging. Or give blogging a pause and resume it when you have more time [and energy]. Or do it occasionally, only to the extent you can sustain it comfortably.

3. Blogging has become boring

Are you suffering from 'writer's block' - not getting right expressions or being able to get ideas? Has your knowledge bank exhausted? Do you feel bored of blogging, and it no longer excites you?

If yes, you are a sure candidate for un-blogging yourself. But before doing that, ask yourself whether the problem is with blogging or with you. This is needed because we have seen a large number of friends and relatives quitting exercise, yoga, music, dance and other avocations as they feel 'bored'.

4. Blogging is taking away more than giving back to you

All our activities should, generally speaking, give us something - money, fulfilment of needs, comfort, peace of mind, long-term happiness, instant thrill, or whatever else. On the other hand, nothing comes free, and we need to give something in return - time, energy, money, peace, bodily comfort etc, etc.

It so happens at times that we end up sacrificing our time and energy disproportionately higher than required for a small gain. This can happen due to many reasons. Take a few examples relating to blogging: A blogger might choose a 'borrowed' topic [one in which he doesn't have much knowledge] and keep trying to keep it going. Another blogger, with no technical knowledge, might get fascinated by frills on some website and would learn the tricks himself for months together to implement them in his blog. Another blogger friend might be paying thousands of dollars a year to a web-host for a simple blog that can as well be hosted on Blogger. 

If you have plenty of time and money to spend on blogging, fine; if not, think over this: are you doing simple things in complicated or wrong ways that consume so much time, labour or money that you feel cheated? Diagnose the issue and re-engineer your blog engagement if that is required. If you do not have a solution in sight, how about getting rid of the blog or blogging itself!

5. You want to earn a very quick buck

Have you entered blogging just to make a huge fortune and too quickly? If yes, read on.

Blogging is a painstaking activity and you need to work hard to establish your brand and earn money from your blog. Of course some SEO and other tweaks, along with good monetisation techniques including connected sources of income, help you earn faster. But unless you are a techie/ hacker who is able to fool search engines and buyers that your blog has great value while you serve them trash, you will take time to earn handsomely from a blog.

So, dear, if you are not prepared to work hard and do not have the brains and intention of a wayward  tech prodigy and yet want to earn quick money, you should quit blogging right now. Believe us, there are many more ways to earn money on the web, and many of them are better than blogging. 

If you still feel that you need not quit blogging, you deserve a big cheer from us. Be patient and work slightly harder and you will achieve whatever may your blog's goal be.

Must I put a captcha on my blog to stop spammers?

We knew that captcha is a dirty word among bloggers, but only during the current survey of blogosphere for compilation of the best blogs' directory have we realized that it is an extremely hated thing among blog visitors.

We all are annoyed by the twisted, unintelligibly written, confusing text and numbers that we have to enter before we are allow to go ahead, e.g. before filling an online application. Captchas reside everywhere: utility sites, online forms, comments on blogs and other interactive websites, etc etc. Captchas annoy no ends when they are extremely undecipherable and when our correct answers are rejected by the site. Some of us are put off at the sight of captcha and would run away from the site unless we are forced to bear it because we want to do some online transaction.

But blog posts are seldom a necessity for a visitor. He can run away if he does not like something in the blog or in a particular post. So, should we force a captcha on the visitor wanting to interact with through the comment box or comment form?

Why we put a captcha at all?

Most bloggers who place a captcha at the commenting box do so as they feel that captchas protect the blog from automated comment spam. That is mostly true, though a captcha is not a guarantee that the blog is fully protected against a spam attack.

Some bloggers have never given a thought to it. If the blogging platform threw a choice to have or not to have a captcha, they sleepily clicked on 'yes'.

A much smaller portion of bloggers seem to feel that putting a captcha is a show of knowing more technology than not putting it.

Why you need not put a captcha, and why you should not put it.

Captchas are a nuisance even if technically they make it difficult for bots to fill comment boxes with spam. For a blogger, nothing can be worse than a visitor who wanted to make a comment on a post but has left as he was put off by the captcha.

Captcha is also disabled-friendly. Older persons too find it difficult to discern the mingled alphabets and digits. These also put a lot of strain on people whose mother tongue is not the same as that of the captcha.
 a reCaptcha

There are other, better, options to reduce spam. You can moderate each comment before publishing it. You can also think of allowing only certain verified users to comment – though that too is less friendly than allowing quick and anonymous comments.

If a website or blog receives a large number of genuine comments, it would need some form of automated check on spam because it becomes a big task to check each and every comment at regular intervals. In you are a hugely popular blogger, you can go for captcha’s more friendly alternatives such as reCaptcha offered by Google and some other websites. (In a reCapcha [image given here], the visitor has to just click once on a box or somewhere else.) There are some other ways, such as mathematical captcha (in which the visitor is asked to solve a simple math equation) and asking visitors to identify the correct picture from many given, but these too might irritate some.

By the way, do you know that ‘captcha’ is an acronym for completely automated public turing test to tell computers and humans apart?

You may like to visit this earlier post on comment spam.

Interesting trends in use of social media in India for mass communication

Talkathons are becoming fashionable with India's top ministers. Typically, a talkathon is a live question-answer session on a social media platform, such as Facebook or Google Hangouts.

This has caught fancy because unlike a press conference, you have an army of supporting staff writing answers, filtering questions, even directing the way the discussion goes. Then, you can choose not to answer a question and also easily evade cross-questioning. Your back-end boys can outsmart critiques, using technical tools and carpet bombing the area with favourable comments and questions. Though only a few hundred people have viewed your performance, you would claim that you are a modern, tech-savvy politician and a great social media hero. 

Some ten days back, India's Coal and Energy Minister Piyush Goyal used this tool, and last week it was the turn of Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu to answer questions after presenting the rail budget in parliament. True to what Indian politicians and bureaucrats are used to, Prabhu started the talkathon late by an hour. This Friday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley joined the  bandwagon by having a talkathon. Modereted by author Chetan Bhagat, the show saw the minister answer a range of questions posed by people on Twitter and YouTube on the union budget that he'd presented that day. By the way, he was on time! [You can see these talkathons on YouTube channel of I&B Ministry.]

A month back, we had discussed about Now, Facebook and Reliance Communications have teamed together to bring this app to India, starting with six states where Reliance provides internet services. This app offers free basic services ranging from health to travel, government information and sports. The information is available in local languages, besides Hindi and English.

India's spokesman on foreign affairs (MEA) used Facebook for a question-answer session. There were myriad questions, and it helped clear some cobwebs. Frankly, it was better than one expected from an official.