Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Has It Dawned On You Yet Why Google And Microsoft Have Indian CEO's?

buzzfeed  |  For more than a year, India’s government first cut off and then throttled internet access to Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir after unilaterally withdrawing the disputed region’s autonomy. Facebook executives reportedly shielded members of India’s ruling party from the platform’s hate speech rules to protect the company’s business interests. Right-wing trolls have used social media platforms to harass women who they say offended their religious sensibility. Hindu nationalists have repeatedly taken offense to original shows that Netflix and Amazon have produced, claiming that the platforms were offending Hindu gods and promoting “love jihad,” a conspiracy theory that accuses Muslim men of converting Hindu women. In 2020, rioters used Facebook Live to incite violence in Delhi. Last month, India’s government threatened to jail Twitter executives for not complying with an order to block hundreds of accounts, many of which were critical of the government, and Delhi police briefly threw a young climate activist in jail after charging her with sedition for editing a Google Doc.

I love tech. But watching it intersect with a Hindu nationalist government trying to crush dissent, choke a free press, and destroy a nation’s secular ethos doesn’t feel like something I bought a ticket to. Writing about technology from India now feels like having a front-row seat to the country’s rapid slide into authoritarianism. “It’s like watching a train wreck while you’re inside the train,” I Slacked my boss in November.

In the physical world, it seemed like things were spiraling out of control. At the end of 2019, protests about the controversial new citizenship law roiled the nation. In January 2020, masked goons unleashed violence at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, whose students and staff are frequently branded by the ruling party as “anti-national.” Soon after, communal riots rocked New Delhi, the city I live in. More than 50 people died. But still, millions of Indians could freely voice their opinions online, at least when the government didn’t shut down their internet.

This February, it felt like the walls finally closed in. In the final week of that month, India’s government imposed draconian rules that gave it the last word over what social media platforms will leave up, what streaming services will show, and what news websites will publish. It might also require messaging apps like WhatsApp and Signal to break their encryption so that it can track who texted whom.

Social media companies are now required to take down anything the government deems problematic within three days, and anything that law enforcement is unhappy with within 36 hours. Platforms must also hand over people’s information to law enforcement agencies if they ask for it. If the platforms fail to comply, their local staff can be prosecuted, and companies could lose their protection from being held liable for content that people post.

If anyone in India takes offense to any scene in any show or any movie on any streaming service, they can file a complaint. If a service doesn’t respond or give a satisfactory explanation, the person who complained can appeal to the federal government, which can then compel services to censor, edit, or take down the content.