If we can’t be China as far as all the good things about China go, we can at least try to emulate the bad stuff. That’s the message that telecom and information technology minister (and HRD also, I think, I’m feeling too lazy to check on Google) Kapil Sibal has broadcasted. He called the Indian bosses of Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft and told them to screen content on social media networks (possibly he couldn’t find anyone to call from Twitter). He later denied that he was promoting censorship and said some images and statements on social media sites could fan religious and communal tensions.

A file photo of telecom minister Kapil Sibal.

So I went on YouTube and watched this wonderful video called Manmohan Singham: the trailer of the Hindi film Singham with our Prime Minister’s face replaced for Ajay Devgn’s in all the shots, and statements added which are macho enough to fit the visuals. As Manmohan Singh kapows lowlifes, the screen blanks out and says: “He fights the black economy", or “His valour will impress his boss". As he breaks a streetlight—well, it’s in the film so you can’t blame the guys who fiddled around with the video for that--as he breaks a streetlight on the head of someone who clearly deserves streetlights broken on his head, the video proclaims: “He fights corruption" and “He bashes inflation". I loved it. This is creativity that must be treasured and rewarded. (It also has a shot where the heroine’s face is replaced with Sonia Gandhi’s, and the ticker goes: “Mamma mia, what a man!")

The government would of course find this highly objectionable, and possibly even “inflammatory". As for me, my body temperature did not rise at all while watching this hilarious take-off, and I stayed as inflamed about the current state of affairs as I was before watching it.

Of course there’s enough hateful and sick stuff going around on the net, and people are forwarding and giving links, to content that is at the very least insane, and at its worst, highly dangerous. But if Kapil Sibal—and by implication, this government—had any brains (someone started a “Kapil Sibal is an idiot" tweet, and boy, did it get retweeted!), he would ask our intelligence agencies to keep track of the source of this content -- who’s uploading this content, who’s passing it on. Mr Sibal, you are the minister in charge of information technology, so for God’s sake, so try to understand this simple fact: this content is public, not hidden, and you can get to know more about the hate-mongers by studying that content and following the leads that public posting on the net invariably provides.

Terrorists planning the next bomb attack are not discussing it on social networks. Yet social networks can be very useful sources for checking trends, spotting mood shifts, pinpointing incipient troublemaker groups. Instead of haranguing executives running social networks, who anyway have no way to control what is being posted where, use the damn things for your valid and necessary purposes.

If this sounds like I am advocating government snooping in private spaces, it is not so at all. Facebook and Twitter are not private spaces. Those who don’t realise this are fools. And those who put up stuff there that can be dangerous are asking for closer scrutiny, something which is the duty of a state. (And India not being China, Manmohan Singham will still have free run on the net).

Mr Sibal, there’s the word “information" on your business card. Try to figure out what it means.

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