Facebook's stern warning to its users comes in the wake of the Indian government bringing to its notice the posting of contents, including inflammatory matters and doctored pictures and videos to create social unrest in the country
Washington: In the backdrop of appeals by India to remove hate posts, world's largest social networking website Facebook said it will remove content, block pages or even disable accounts of those users who upload contents that incite violence or perpetuate hate speech, reports PTI.
Comprehending the gravity, Facebook's stern warning to its users comes in the wake of the Indian government bringing to its notice the posting of contents, including inflammatory matters and doctored pictures and videos to create social unrest in the country.
"Facebook will remove content which breaches our terms as set out in our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Content or individuals can be removed from Facebook for a variety of reasons including issuing direct calls for violence or perpetuating hate speech," a Facebook spokesperson told PTI.
"We have received requests from Indian authorities and agencies and are working through those requests and responding to the agencies. We encourage people to continue to use our tools to report content they are concerned about so that we can investigate and take action fast," the spokesperson said when asked about the actions being taken by the company.
Given the gravity of the situation, which the social networking site officials term "an emergency situation" a large number of Facebook employees are working round the clock in both India and the US to review and monitor the content and take necessary action, which the company says is part of its social responsibilities. .
In fact, Facebook has already removed quite a significant number of such "inflammatory" and "hate" contents from its website and in some cases blocked pages.
However, because of the company policy and privacy reasons, its official would not quantify the number of such actions.
If any user repeatedly tries to upload such hateful content, Facebook can even disable the account, said an official requesting anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to the press on this issue.
Expressing serious concern over the current situation in India wherein people have tried to use Facebook as a tool to incite violence or spread hate, the official said Facebook has taken a number of measures to prevent this.
The company is taking a cue from its 2010 experience of riots in London wherein it closely worked with local police to prevent its website being used by hatemongers for either gathering purposes or spread rumors.
The Facebook, the official said, is "pretty aligned" with the views of the Indian government on this and have "not run into any issues" with the government.
"We understand the gravity of the situation," the official said, adding that the company has intensified the monitoring of such content related to India.
Facebook has some 50 million users in India. Company officials urged users to remain alert on any such inflammatory or objectionable posting and keep it informed.
Last year Maharashtra government had provided close to 42 lakh bogus ration cards, reveals a RTI. These things are taking mafia colours, as is evident in the case of a Mumbai-based RTI activist who was assaulted for seeking info on ration card frauds
Last week, an untoward incident took place in Mumbai wherein RTI (Right to Information) activist Mahendra Thakur was seriously assaulted with iron rods and bricks by fair price (ration) shopkeepers of Mumbai for having invoked the RTI Act to get information on the foodgrain supplies to the shops in the Varsha Nagar area of Vikhroli. Earlier, he tried to get information from shopkeepers themselves but they got into a heated argument with him and hence he had decided to take the RTI route. Strongly condemning this incident, former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi has recommended that, “he should file a complaint with the SIC (state information commission) and ask for support. The SIC could write to the police and the chief secretary/ home secretary of Maharashtra and a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) should also be filed.”
Very importantly, if ration card holders, who do not get their quota of foodgrain or are harassed for procuring their ration card use RTI then RTI activists would be less under threat and assault. An increasing number of RTI applications in the food and civil supplies department would put pressure on the authorities and the fair price shopkeepers, too, as both allegedly work in nexus, most of the time. In order to invoke RTI for a ration card, you have to send your application to the food & civil supplies department.
Such an effort by an individual was highlighted in MoneyLife last year (18-year-old’s persistence leads to mandatory stock disclosure for fair price shops in Gujarat: http://www.moneylife.in/article/78/18619.html). Teenager Bhadresh Wamja of Saldi village in Gujarat had used RTI to not only to ensure that the two fair price shops in his village distribute foodgrain to every ration card holder but it inspired the state government to announce a mandatory rule for every Public Distribution System (PDS) shopkeeper to compulsorily put up details of his weekly stock supplies for public display.
NGOs and RTI groups should also chip in by helping individuals to file RTI in the ration card issue. Way back in 2004, social reformer Arvind Kejriwal’s NGO Parivartan had helped a daily wager to procure his duplicate ration card (he had lost his original one). A resident of a slum area in East Delhi, he made several rounds of the local food & supplies office for a good three months but the officials ignored his request. With the help of Parivartan, he filed a RTI application seeking information on “the daily progress made on his application, names of the officials who were supposed to act on his application and what action would be taken against these officials”. Within a week of filing the application, an inspector from the department visited his house and asked him to collect his card from the office. That was of course when the RTI Act was very new and was yet to become a national Act. Much water has flown down the track ever since, but an interesting recent research conducted by students of a US university showed that even the underprivileged can get their rightful ration cards very effectively by using the RTI route.
Sometimes, ration card holders are denied their rightful quota due to error in technology. In 2011, Sandeep Gupta had received information under RTI that rations have been stopped to 44,172 ration card holders in Delhi due to an error in the computer system of the food & civil supplies department. He invoked the RTI yet again, this time asking what action has been taken against the officials for this error. Since he did not get an adequate reply from even the First Appellate Authority, he had filed an appeal to the Central Information Commissioner. CIC Shailesh Gandhi ordered on 21 March 2011: “It is scandalous that since computer systems and connectivity is not proper 44,172 families in Delhi which should get rations at a fixed price are unable to get them. Government policies appear to be the victim of a completely inefficient computer system.
``The Respondents also informed the Commission that a large number of cardholders (around 70000) in the category of un-reviewed cards are also suffering because of inefficient operation of the computer systems. The Commission directs the Food Commissioner to look into the disenfranchisement of over 100,000 families in Delhi because of improper functioning of the computer systems according to the respondents.
“…The Commission also directs the Food Commissioner to send a compliance report to the Commission about the action taken about disenfranchisement of over 100,000 families to the Commission before 20 April 2011.”
Interestingly, a research in 2010 found that use of RTI is very effective in the issue of ration cards. The two research students, Leonid Peisakhin and Paul Pinto of the Department of Political Science, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA, conducted a field study on access to ration cards by the underprivileged in Delhi through the Right to Information Act. They chose 100 slum dwellers who had not received their ration cards or were following up on their applications. They were divided into four groups. The first group followed up their application by asking for information under RTI. The second group submitted request by a letter with a certification letter from a NGO; the third group gave their applications to a middle man who charged them Rs200 and the fourth group served as a control group as it applied under the standard format.
The group of 100 slum dwellers were chosen on the following criteria: their annual income should be around Rs20,000; he or she should possess an electricity bill, a driving license, or a voter identity card for residential proof. Going door-to-door in the slum, the research team enlisted the help of about 100 individuals who consented to participate in the study. Finally, 86 participated.
The research report published in late 2011 observes: “The results were striking: while those paying speed money predictably had the lowest median processing times, approximately two and a half months, virtually all those who had ﬁled a RTI request received a ration card in a median time of approximately four months. Very few confederates in the other two experimental groups received a ration card during the one-year window when data collection was ongoing. If we discount various non-obligatory waiting periods, recourse to the RTIA is almost as effective as bribery.”
The researchers have correctly observed that: “India’s PDS—the institution responsible for the provision of subsidized food and core commodities to the public—is highly corrupt and functions more in the interest of civil servants and affiliated business owners than the poor.”
The research paper also notes that: “Foodstuffs like wheat, rice, sugar, and cooking oil are purchased from farmers by government contractors and are then shipped from procurement centres to regional depots and from there to approximately 500,000 “fair-price shops”. Overall, between 15% and 61% of all subsidized food managed by the PDS goes missing on its way to the consumer. The central government spends more than 5% of its total budget on procurement of subsidized foodstuffs, up from 2.5% in the early 1990s (Jenkins & Goetz 2002). Ration card holders can obtain free or subsidized food from fair-price shops in cities or from specialized stores in the countryside. Provincial politicians regularly promise to have ration cards issued to potential voters in exchange for their electoral support. As a result, strict eligibility criteria for different types of ration card are commonly disregarded, and certain communities are oversupplied with cards, whereas many individuals in dire need of subsidized food never receive theirs. The government estimates that there are 223.2 million ration cards in circulation, although only 180.3 million households are eligible for them (Government of India, Planning Commission, 2007).”
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected].)
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