India leads rankings of internet service disruptions in an attempt to stem out fake news and security threats. Large-scale and prolonged limitations, however, end up damaging the economy and social equality beyond what the Centre may think.
Indian Government Blanket Internet Shutdowns Questioned
The world’s second largest internet market – with more than 750 million active users – has become the playground for global Big Tech and local startups alike. The Union’s cultural diversity, however, along with the complexity of the “new normal”, intense online communications climate, have made authorities deal frequently with fake news and disinformation.
Now, the Government’s standard approach is being questioned by digital rights advocacy groups and NGOs, as broad and consistent internet disruptions are causing economic losses, deepening social problems and limiting the access to essential services. In fact, Bharat leads global rankings for internet shutdowns – in instances, coverage and total hours – for a third year in a row.
Many desi internet users have been asking themselves simple questions – can we freely discuss politics online, is online casino legal in India when playing on websites such as PureWin.com, can we safely forward articles found in foreign media or social networks. The issue, however, is not with readers but rather the authors of such misleading content, potentially dangerous to public order and health.
Beyond questions of censorship, many experts and user groups have questioned the efficacy of such wide-scale interventions. Above all, because they impact massively local and state economies, limit social and personal liberties, access to education, healthcare and other essential online services. Last year’s almost 9,000 hours of internet disruptions have cost the Union nearly USD 3 billion, according to the UK based firm Top10VPN. What’s worse, they are limiting business competitiveness, as well as the capacity of local communities to handle pandemic, infodemic and safety issues on their own.
Who Suffers the Most from These Internet Cut-offs?
Admittedly, internet shutdowns have been used throughout the country but Jammu and Kashmir has been hit more often. Crucially, its mobile internet connectivity had been limited to 2G for almost 18 months – ending just this past February. Whether security concerns are enough to warrant such a State-wide limitation of important services, that is another question.
Communication experts and digital businesses insist that more targeted shutdowns of web-pages and channels should be sufficient. As a matter of fact, the Government has already announced its new Regulations of social media content and providers, aimed precisely at fake news and abusive treatment of sensitive national matters.
The importance of the Internet to our daily lives, in any case, makes it imperative that the right balance is found, one way or another. Rural communities often have no other ways of communicating, the elderly and kids as well. While distance learning and working from home has become the norm in many cases, needing stable and reliable internet provision.
Many of the large cities in India are already preparing for 5G rollout, especially those closely connected with hardware and software industries. For the Government’s Digital India initiative to be ultimately successful, the authorities need to come up with a measured and sensible way of separating dangerous content and protecting the interests of larger communities, economic sectors and public services.