Monday, October 30, 2006

Close down Orkut, Sack the teachers!


The Orkut debate continues, with Anushree wanting to pull the plug on the“I hate India” genre of groups. History is a great teacher, and I attempted to learn a bit. First off, here’s a perspective on overreaction from Herblock’s History, commenting on anti-subversive groups and the havoc they often wreak – even in civilized societies.
For those in a hurry, take a dekko at a telling cartoon by Herb Block, here. If you think clicking is a pain, just read on – this, a frightening illustration of overreaction and the impact thereof.


During the postwar anti-communist campaign hundreds of elementary and high school teachers were investigated and lost their jobs (emphasis mine), sometimes as a result of being named by proliferating "anti-subversive" groups and individuals. Some individuals compiled and circulated their own blacklists, which were accepted by frightened employers and casting directors who feared being blacklisted themselves if they sought facts and fair play. The motives of some self-serving or vindictive accusers were summed up by Herb Block in a phrase: "If you can't crush the commies, you can nail a neighbor."


Amongst those who believe subversive groups should be kept off the face of the earth must include the MI5, and you could get a glimpse of their view here in a 1994 speech by the then head honcho.


There are huge dangers in going after groups of people with special or different or unusual or (to us) unpalatable tastes. There are the dangers of jingoism, dangers of overreaction, and indeed, dangers of actually making a marginal group more popular by “victimising” them.
Brainwashing is a danger that Anushree alluded to. Impressionable minds can, indeed, be brainwashed by social networking groups on the net – but also off it. India provides great examples – where has Orkut or the Internet been used to disseminate information to attract and brainwash youth into the various insurgency groups that we have been witness to, and victims of?


The positive contributions of Orkut – such as students being able to discuss the merits and demerits of an educational institute that they have short-listed as a possible destination, as one example – are swept under the carpet.
One is not suggesting for a moment that people breaking the law of the land on social networking sites should be allowed to carry on, regardless. Find them and proceed against them within the limits of the laws of the land – as one would to groups that broke the law in the non-Orkut world.
But shut down Orkut or other sites of similar ilk? That’s like throwing away the baby with the bathwater.
Back to Herb Block. For God’s sake, let’s not nail our neighbours.

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