Understand it


Before you ban it

The social networking site Twitter has often been accused of causing the infantisation, nay, the cretinisation, of debate. This is a jibe at the seriousness of the topics on the micro-blogging site, which have to be discussed, not in nuanced articles of a suitable length but in bite-sized snippets of 140 characters or – wait for it – less.

Ironically, it is the mindset that banned the site, albeit briefly, that could be accused of being reckless simpletons with a tiny capacity for abstract thought.

Apparently, the reason for banning the site was a particular blasphemous event being promoted on it. The government authorities claimed that they had written to the site’s headquarters and had resorted to closing down the site’s access in the country when their request was not humoured.

The brief ban, which was lifted when the nation’s twits and hipsters complained to their respective influential friends, is just one in a series of such moves. Earlier this year, the government banned “obscene” words to be used on text messages on the nation’s cellular telephone networks. In 2010, the Bahawalpur bench of the Lahore High Court had passed a judgment against Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site.

What all these instances serve to highlight is the state’s abject inability to have kept up with the times. Even though it is up to the libertarians in governments to minimise some of their governments’ predilections, all states want to control. All states want to practice a measure of social engineering. All states want to maintain a tight grip on the scheme of things. But it is when these states start plugging in square pegs in round holes that the problems – and chuckles from other countries worldwide – start.

Twitter is a huge collective of the self-absorbed. It is absolutely impossible for the organisation that hosts these conversations to regulate – beyond a bare, bare minimum – anything that goes on there. It would be akin to banning cellular networks on the pretext that someone, somewhere is blaspheming to someone, somewhere over the phone.

Still don’t get it? Too new-age for the mandarins at the IT ministry? Care for something from the old media?

It would be akin to clamping down on all printing presses because one published blasphemous content.