Facebook Blocks More Contents In India

In 2014, social media giant Facebook had announced that they blocked nearly 5,0000 content pieces from India during first six months of the year following requests by mostly government agencies.

According to India Facebook report for Government Request Report, the restriction of the pieces of content came about following requests law enforcement agencies of India and also the India Computer Emergency Report Team. The restrictions were done under local laws that proscribe criticism of the state or religion.

Facebook Apps

During his visit to the South Asian country in October 2014, Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, said he was open to helping Narendra Modi, the new Prime Minister, to connect remote and distant villages to the internet.

In Facebook’s 2014 report that listed 83 countries all over the world, India led the world with 4,960 registered requests for regulating content. It was followed by Turkey and Pakistan which had 1,893 and 1,173 registered requests respectively.

India also recorded the second-highest requests by government to access user accounts. It had 5,958 such requests, behind the US which requested Facebook to access the accounts of 23,667 accounts.

Government requests on the rise

The Deputy General Counsel of Facebook, Mr. Chris Sonderby, wrote in November 2014 in a blog post that the data show that government requests for content and data had gone up by 24% worldwide compared to second half of 2013.

Sonderby added that the giant social media company was working to push nations for greater transparency and also to reform surveillance practices required to build the trust of people in the internet.

According to Facebook, it is common for governments to request for data on Facebook users as part of the official investigations.

Most of these requests are linked to criminal cases such as kidnappings or robberies. In most of these requests, governments seek basic subscriber information like name and sometimes length of service. Some requests have gone further to ask for actual account content or IP address logs.

“Every single request that we receive is subject to checks for legal sufficiency. It is a requirement that officials provide us with substantive description of factual and legal basis for their request. When we realize legal deficiencies or vague overly broad demands for information, we push it back,” read a statement from the company.

The company further added that even where they determine that local laws would force them to disclose information, they only share basic subscriber information.

Why the number of blocks is increasing in India

facebook content block request
In the same period of time last year, only some 4,960 posts were blocked in India. In 2015 however, this number has increased by almost three times. While Facebook states that government-requested content blocks have gone up globally by about 18%, the most likely reason explaining the massive surge in blocks of posts in India is due to the growing political unrest in the country.

In the data released by Facebook in its biannual Government Requests Report, India requested to restrict 15,155 pieces of content, three times the requests it made during the same period last year.

Scientists have even come up with a way of determining mathematically the virality-quotient of a post. This describes how information spreads, social aggregations and higher dimensional groups.

There are some 130 million monthly Facebook users in India, which is the highest number of users after the United States. Greater number of users means great quantity of posts. With this comes even more hate mongers and individuals peddling falsehoods and information. Sometimes these people just want the information to go viral.

Online Anonymity

This clampdown on information by government agencies in India may lead to people resorting to online anonymity. Online anonymity is where users browse the internet without their identities being revealed. Online anonymity provides layer of protection for individuals’ privacy. Online anonymity lets individuals express their views and ideas without fear of being judged. This phenomenon of online anonymity is very common in Russia where the government really checks what people say over the internet. Online anonymity is also a vital tool for free speech.

This is the third time that Facebook is releasing the report since its reception way back in 2013, and in the three years, India has been topping the list of content removal request.

Is Anonymous Social Media At Risk?

Internet anonymity isn’t necessarily associated with Tor network or VPN which both hide your IP address, location and your identity. It also means being able to open social media profiles without revealing your real name, as it was in the early days of internet before Facebook, YouTube, G+, and even MySpace.

Social Media
Ever since Facebook made it obligatory to use your real name, Internet anonymity has become questionable. According to a national survey, 86% of Internet users are taking steps in securing anonymity for themselves.

Although some believe that Internet anonymity provides security and comfort for people, in most cases people use it to misbehave, bully other people, troll across the internet, threat and even engage in criminal activities. So, Internet anonymity seems to be a double-edged sword.

And while Facebook still insists to use real names, Twitter and Reddit and similar sites are a bit more flexible and users are not required to use their real names; the main consequence being significant increase of bullying on these platforms as opposed to Facebook. Even Twitter’s CEO agreed that “we suck at dealing with trolls and abuse.”

New wave of concern for Internet anonymity has formed around people-rating app Peeple, and shutting down the anonymous app Secret. Peeple app is something like Yelp for people. What this means is that anyone who knows your name, phone number or your Facebook account can open a profile on your behalf and rate you! You don’t even have to be aware of it. Moreover, the reviews are permanent.

So, if you’ve kept yourself off the radar all this time, you will no longer be in control of your anonymity; sooner or later we’ll all end up on Peeple, all set to be reviewed.

Perhaps that’s not such a bad idea, after all. I mean, when buying a car or a cell phone, we do quite a bit of research on the particular device and on the company that sells it; so, why not do the same when picking new friends or partners?! The app became controversial even before its release.

Speaking about Internet anonymity, its advantages and disadvantages, in her book “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” Danielle Citron gives a list of all possible harassment crimes on the web and possible solutions to counter it. None of the solutions questions justification of Internet anonymity. Citron believes that bullies occur equally on anonymous and non-anonymous social media sites.

She proposed a couple of solutions such as clear guidelines, better reporting system, well presented explanations for punishments, and of course allowing users themselves to reinforce good or bad behavior.

One of the attempts in preserving Internet anonymity was project Rooms. It was based on IRC chat rooms, where people could openly discuss certain topics in a room, and messages are approved by moderators. Strangely enough, the project was unsuccessful and gained just a handful of users.

Secret anonymity app was another project that failed in its mission to allow users to openly exchange their opinions. The app was shut down by the founder himself, David Byttow, and the money, $35 million, returned to the investors. Byttow said it was the hardest thing in his life, but he didn’t have any other choice, since the network was growing fast and getting out of control. He was especially dumbstruck when he realized just how many trolls and abusers are out there. Whisper and Yik Yak also struggle with bullies but they are still holding online.

Perhaps the most worrisome thing considering Internet anonymity is the recent event that took place in Sidney. An anonymous threat was posted by user on the message board called 4chan. He threatened to shoot at college and campus. Police and the anti-terrorist squad were alarmed and the next few days they spent patrolling the area; fortunately, it turned out that the threat was a fake one.

Police later said that even though they believed the threat wasn’t genuine, they treated it like it was. Most of the students were not very upset about the threats; they believed it was made by a fellow student who just wanted to ditch classes and enjoy a beautiful day. But some of them were very upset realizing that similar things happen at some colleges across America, where shooting attacks occur relatively often.

One thing’s for sure – even though Internet anonymity provide fertile ground for abuse and even criminal activities; more and more people are becoming advocates of Internet anonymity and believe that there are other ways to secure safe communication among people.