Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Government right in demanding shut-down of fraud twitter handles….

There is a notion in some people’s minds that banning anything is wrong. It is illiberal. There will be many critics of the action the PMO has taken of asking twitter to shut down accounts of fraudsters who impersonate as the PMO’s official handle. While I am against bans that disallow freedom of speech, and for those that may criticize the government or do something that’s obviously fake and funny, I am all for banning fraudulent sites that only intend to deceive people….

I would oppose any ban on parody sites. If for instance there was a twitter handle called @PMOgaffes, I would be all in favor of it. After all, there is no office that cannot be parodied. Parodying something is a definite form of expression and I cannot be denied that right. But if someone intentionally fools the public by calling himself @PM0 (the “O” replaced by the numeral “0”), then his intentions are suspect. It’s not parody any longer. It’s not even an obvious fake id which people can recognize. It’s a willful attempt at fooling people who may come looking for the real PMO. In any case, it is difficult on twitter to know which is the real handle of a person; There are multiple options that exist for every famous personality. With such fraud handles existing, the task of identifying the real one is difficult. Of course twitter does provide “authenciated” or “verified” tags to genuine ids….but most people don’t know about that. By the way, even Sushma Swaraj’s and Rahul Gandhi’s twitter handles are unauthenticated. How does one know whether @rahulgaandhi or @rahulgandhi2020 is the real one? What if a fraudster is operating one of these and dishing out crazy stuff in the name of the real Rahul Gandhi?

Those who think India is becoming illiberal should look at the way the US, UK, Australia and so many Western European countries (the most liberal ones!) are handling the Assange matter. I have always maintained that Assange should be arrested and tried for treason (Read my post of June 23rd this year - Julian Assange deserves exemplary punishment…..). Here is a man who has made a business out of publishing classified information; as if that can be called providing service to anyone. Classified information lands into the hands of many people (like journalists) almost all the time – sent as it is by disgruntled elements. But publishing the information could seriously compromise national security, spoil relations between countries and cause other unfathomable harm to the world. And yet, Assange was considered the hero of freedom of speech. See how the West is eliminating him? They’ve implicated him on a rape charge…..and want him deported to Sweden (Assange fears he will be deported to the US and tried for treason)? Nobody is complaining that their freedom of speech – as symbolized by Assange – is being emasculated. And yet if the same thing had happened in India, it would have been called “government vendetta”! See the tax probe against Ramdev? It’s called vendetta, when everyone knows the man has a lot of answer.

I am totally for genuine parodies or those that have genuine angst against public authorities. So banning books or disallowing movies from releasing or pulling down websites that are anti-government are not ok at all. But blocking out intentional attempts at fooling people are ok. There should be no politics here. It is a nation’s right and duty to fend off criminal elements.

So which is the most savvy of our political parties when it comes to twitter? For the Congress, it is undoubtedly Shashi Tharoor who has 14.6 lac followers. Others that I could readily locate are the PMO with 1.7 lac followers. Then there is Rahul Gandhi with 1.07 lac, Digvijay Singh with 22 thousand and Sonia Gandhi (assuming it’s an authentic id which I doubt) with 12 thousand followers. For the BJP, Narendra Modi is the clear winner with some 8.6 lac followers. Sushma Swaraj has nearly 3 lac followers, Nitin Gadkari just some 13 thousand while Arun Jaitley (looks like a fake id) has less than a thousand. Akhilesh Yadav has about 10000 followers. The Left thinks twitter is a symbol of US hegemony. None of its leaders (not even Sitaram Yechury) has any twitter account!

Some twitter accounts are hilarious! For eg., there is an obvious fake account of LK Advani’s that goes by the handle @fakeadvani which has some 400 followers. One of the tweets reads: If someone throws a shoe at me, I’ll kill that mo….. and build a temple on his grave. Period”. Hilarious! There is one handle called @RIP_Congress with 10 Janpath as the address. This one has a thousand followers and its intro reads as follows: Mughals – Britishers – Fake Indians – Italians. We want a real Indian to rule the nation. Jaihind! Funny! Then there is one on Pranab Mukherjee – @Mukherjeebabu – with some 2500 followers. The intro reads: PM by baarth. Shinghji was tha Gobornor, RBI whoen I was the Eph M (Phinance Minishter) andaar Shoniaji’s Mathar-in-law. Awesome! And how can Mayawati’s fake account – @Behenmayawati – be any less interesting. It has 1000 followers and reads: Statue builder, garland acceptor, sandal wearer, house renovator and manuwadi basher. Also, now that UP is gone, Future PM? Satire? Who kya hota hai? Hain?! Priceless!

The real truth is that obvious fake….obvious parodies….should all be permitted. Our leaders must develop a sense of humor. But those handles that impersonate as the real person….spread canards and lies….those need to be shut down. Freedom of speech or not…..

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