Millennium Post

Block the goddamn websites!

Web logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective. Their potent allies in this pursuit include Google and Yahoo. wrote Daniel Lyons some years back, in a classic Forbes cover story titled Attack of the Blogs. As the senior editor of Forbes then, Dan was simply expressing his extreme frustration at the utter nastiness of the Internet community, which seemed to have a super-majority of calumnious commentators, who thrived on the faceless protection that the net provided in order to leave shamefully slanderous and defamatory comments left, right and center. Cut to the present, and the situation has sickeningly worsened. Not just globally, but perhaps more so in the Indian perspective. Take a quick ‘surf’ across various pages of the Internet and it would not be hard for one to realise that every fourth or fifth page is filled up with some or the other pejoratively aberrant content against respectable individuals and companies posted by untraceable, incognito and spiteful writers. From four-letter words to bigoted slanders to sexist comments to racist attacks to clearly inflammatory and libelous material, the net is now so completely full of criminally damnable statements that one starts wondering why the authorities haven’t woken up to act on this issue with the greatest speed. In case of profiles of meritorious organisations or individuals, this ratio of deprecating content put up by abusive users often shoots up to almost every second page. Internet hooliganism, as I describe it, is the most contemptible character of the modern technology era, where it doesn’t matter how respectable you are or what your organisation is, or how you sincerely worked throughout the past many decades – irrespective of all that, you will be attacked anonymously with false statements that will make you cringe for a lifetime and with almost no hope for any recourse. As per a 2011 report titled,
The Internet and Corporate Reputation: What you need to know,
conducted by law service firm Olswang and social media analytics company WindFall Media, ‘60 per cent of the companies that had been victims of untrue allegations or rumours on the Internet said the allegations were likely to have an impact on the company’s share price.’ As the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner Kathleen Parker of Washington Post mentions in one of her articles, The freedom granted by [Internet] anonymity and a virtual audience may have been a boon to democracy, affording everyone a voice, but it has been a plague on decency.

The question is, why is all this not controllable? When a person talks negatively and falsely about you in public, the law provides for such a person to be immediately pulled up by both law enforcement and judicial authorities. Then why cannot the same rules be applied over the Internet, when someone posts flagitious comments about you or your corporation? Because of three key reasons, which go hand in hand!

First, as I mentioned earlier, is the wicked anonymity that the web provides to Internet posters, which gives them protection from being identified and prosecuted. Second is the hand-in-hand conspiratorial connivance of Internet companies like search engines, social networking sites, blog site hosts and even ISPs that refuse to delete or block out the execrable comments and links and also refuse to confirm the identities of the anon-posters. Google, Wikipedia, Twitter... all of them fall within the same indecent category of companies. The third reason is the weak laws in many countries, as Internet is a phenomenon which is still unfolding.

In all this, the search engine giant Google clearly comes off as one of the worst offenders of them all. Being the search engine that a huge majority of net users employ across the world, Google has played its cards on an extremely unethical front and could well now be called the biggest slander-supporting media house in the world by its refusal to instantly recognise and remove perfidious and malicious content and to bring the irresponsible posters and commentators to task.

A well-known cardiologist Ashwin Mehta, took Google to court, after he discovered that there were over 20 defamatory blogs on its website that accused him of professional misconduct, which greatly damaged his reputation and work. When summoned, Google India’s lawyers filed an affidavit in the Bombay High Court on 23 June 2009, claiming fantastically that Google India had no connection with Google Inc., USA, and that they worked separately.

And because user agreements for the company’s blogging service (Blogger) was signed by Google USA, the Indian arm could not be held responsible for any harm caused to any party through the company’s Blogger service. Clearly, if Google’s court arguments sounded over-the-logical-top to you, don’t be worried, there are countries that have stopped buying such irrational, immoral and irresponsible defence statements by Google.

Internet is the new media and the common man looks up to it as an ocean of facts. Anything derogatory can’t come up in search engines, should necessarily be password-protected and meant only for viewing purposes of the person(s) concerned or the ones who have access to that password. But it can’t come up on public search engine results, which the common man trusts so much.

And Indian arms of organisations like Google, which make money in India by selling ads, should be made to accept ownership of the slander content they promote, by the courts. And a plea like Google India’s – that it has no connection with Google USA – should simply be rejected. A week-long ban on Google from operating in India by the courts, and we will see Google USA coming up and taking ownership of Google India as well! Internet search content can’t be allowed to be made a forum for frustrated losers to vent out slander.

The author is a management guru and director of IIPM Think tank
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