Double standards

Double standards

The US government’s response to India’s blocking of websites and Twitter accounts is rather hypocritical. It has called on India to respect the right to freedom of expression on the Internet.

Coming from a country that is contemptuous of internet freedoms and its democratisation, as seen in Julian Assange’s case, the gratuitous advice is unwelcome. The US is deeply reluctant to cede its iron grip over the internet to even the United Nations. Its officials often state their support to full freedom of expression on the Internet but their actions speak differently.

The immense pressure they brought to bear on WikiLeaks to get it to shut down is just one example. When Assange refused to stop leaking documents that were embarrassing the US, it forced MasterCard, Amazon and Paypal to stop hosting WikiLeaks to prevent its raising funds to finance its operations. Besides, the US government is reportedly seeking to remove permanently material uploaded on the WikiLeaks website. 

When reminded of this, US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, who hectored India on its blocking of websites, said that silencing WikiLeaks was not about freedom of the Internet. This reeks of double standards. In Washington’s rulebook, the online world can be silenced when it draws attention to the US’ dark deeds. When others shut down inflammatory websites that fuel violence and terror, Washington morphs into a champion of freedom of expression, hiding behind the garb of democracy to protect the profits of US internet companies.

It is not our argument that social media should be silenced. A blanket ban on twitter accounts or censoring online content is not in the best interests of India’s democracy. There is a danger of the government using national security as an excuse to silence opinion critical of poor governance. Ideally, it must avoid censorship and instead get internet companies to weed out offensive content.

China, which banned Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in the wake of riots in 2009 in Xinjiang province, has come out in India’s support. The two countries are expected to push for United Nations regulation of the Internet.

The US is opposed to ceding control to the UN, arguing that this will encourage states’ censoring of online content to monitor their citizens.  However, the US’ control of the virtual world and its selective censoring is unacceptable. Other countries must unite to loosen its grip. 

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