Earlier today, India decriminalized homosexuality. In a fitting judgement, the Supreme Court rightly stated that “history owes the LGBT community an apology”. Euphoria on twitter and in Indian media followed, since the verdict was as anticipated.
As part of the celebrations, one news item got this “history” horribly wrong. The headline (and the text) read that “As SC decriminalises gay sex, India joins 25 nations where homosexuality is legal”. This is incorrect and misleading.
As the article itself mentions, homosexuality is illegal in only about 72 countries. There are about 197 countries in the world (if you consider Palestine and Taiwan as countries which I do). That means homosexuality isn’t a crime in 125 countries.
The 25 countries they mention is where same sex marriages are legally recognized. The article mentions
some of these  countries where gay sex has been legalised are: “Argentina (2010), Greenland (2015), South Africa (2006), Australia (2017), Iceland(2010), Spain (2005), Belgium (2003), Ireland(2015), United States (2015),Brazil (2013), Luxemborg (2014), Sweden (2009) and Canada (2005).”
First it reflects on how due process is ignored in contemporary news cycles. This story was a PTI (Press Trust of India) release and many news outlets (including Times of India, world’s largest English language daily by circulation) have reproduced it without checking for serious and consequential (yes) factual errors.
Second, while we celebrate the decriminalization of homosexuality in world’s largest democracy, this incorrect fact undermines the importance of this judgement. India is a very late in recognizing LGBTQ rights. Until 2018 it belonged to a dark club of 72 countries, largely comprising of former British colonies and a few islamic states that haven’t fixed this draconian Victorian era law (section 377 in the Indian Penal Code). With today’s verdict, India has stepped outside the dark, but is nowhere close to these 25 countries (which the news media equates India with) when it comes to rights of people in same sex partnerships. Further, it is also behind at least a dozen other countries, which recognize same sex unions as civil partnerships including the United Kingdom. Yet such coverage would have us believe otherwise.
Legal challenges aside, the LGBTQ movement in India has to overcome a lot of social prejudice. One such social prejudice sees homosexuality as a Western or First World phenomenon (which it isn’t), and an undesirable external influence on Indian culture. Perhaps coverage like this also misleads in that regard.
I hope this incorrect story is retracted or updated to correct this serious error. And steer the LGBTQ movement in India to its next steps.
Fake news on messaging platforms such as WhatsApp is a HUGE problem. Unlike on Facebook and Twitter it’s spread cannot be mapped, as these networks are highly social but not measurable. That they are end-to -end encrypted (protect privacy of senders and maintain secrecy of content) makes it even harder to control the spread of falsehoods and misinformation.
Himanshu Gupta and I, in a article just published in Columbia Journalism Review argue that despite being end to end encrypted, WhatsApp can read metadata related to its messages. This makes it possible to implement a content moderation system which uses Fact Checking to potentially weed out Fake Messages.
Yet we learn from historians of cartography that maps reflect the preexisting interests, desires and preconceptions of the society from which they emerge. The same goes with how the vast virtual territory is mapped.
Consistent with the rhetoric emphasizing technical connectivity led by US-based transnational corporations, the prevalent maps of the Internet privilege technical features – such as hyperlinks, content of Web pages, Internet infrastructures and service providers. In these maps, the Web tends to center on the West with the rest of the world at its “peripheries.” These, together with other representations of the global digital divide, highlight the dominance of the West.
Such views limit the public’s ability to envision the Internet as a globally inhabited cyberspace.
We mapped usage of the Internet, as distinct from its technical features. Viewed this way, the Internet is much less West-centric, and rapidly diversifying as the world’s populations engage with it in their own ways.
We analyzed traffic to the world’s most popular 1,000 websites – which consistently account for 99 percent of global Web traffic – during the month of September in 2009, 2011 and 2013, respectively. These data come from comScore, a world leader in Web audience measurement.
For each of the possible pairs of those 1,000 websites – more than half a million pairs in total – we looked at the traffic shared by its two constituent websites. For example, for the pair comprising The New York Times and Google USA, we looked at how many people visited both sites.
We viewed website pairs as connected if they had traffic overlaps greater than would be expected by random chance, as with the Times-Google pair above, or the pair comprising the Times of India and Google India. Examined in this way, pairs of websites serving users from different cultural backgrounds – such as the Times of India and Yahoo Japan – tend not to be connected.
The Internet as Global Usage: 2009 (left), 2011, 2013 (right).
The dots are websites and the lines represent the existence of significant traffic overlap between them. These show that global Web usage clusters itself into many communities of websites based on shared traffic. What the member websites of these clusters have in common with each other allows us to identify them as expressions of online regional cultures (see legend).
Analyzing online regional cultures
Mapping sites based on how much traffic they share with each other revealed interconnected clusters or communities of shared Web use. These corresponded well with major geo-linguistic regions, and we called them “online regional cultures.“ In addition, there are a few online cultures that span geographic regions; they tend to include either user-generated or adult content.
To conduct our analysis, we borrow the anthropological concept of ethnology, a scholarly tradition that characterizes relationships between cultures based on common traits in beliefs, emotions or practices. To examine these regional cultures comparatively and historically, we calculated how distinctly a regional cultural community stands out on the Web, and the strength of its online activities.
In general, we find that geographical regions where people speak languages not widely spoken elsewhere (such as Japan and Korea) are the most distinct online cultures; regions with geographically dispersed languages (such as Spanish or Russian) or those of multilingual geographies (such as India) less so.
Our study suggests that the Web, when mapped based on its usage, does not have its core in the West, but is a mosaic of online regional cultures that associate with physical places.
In such maps, the Internet is becoming more decentralized, or to be more precise, de-Westernizing, as more users from disparate cultures are taking over its topography by bringing in their own cultural identities. Between 2009 and 2013 the Web witnessed a gradual process of “de-Americanization”; the cluster corresponding to the U.S. has separated from the “global” websites such as Twitter and Instagram – primarily user-generated websites, which are neither centered in North America nor on the English language.
In this process, the American sites have taken their own “corner” of the Web, just like other online regional cultures. Simultaneously, non-Western online cultures have strengthened, especially those linked to Brazil, Russia, China and India. Unsurprisingly, in these places, local Internet industries are thriving and domestic content is flourishing.
Compared to the prevalent technological Internet maps, our user-centric maps from 2009 to 2013 challenge, rather than reinforce, the existing concept of an Internet anchored by Western knowledge, norms and activities. They encourage the (Anglophone, especially) general public to confront the narrow online world with which it is familiar. Further, the trend captured by our maps may encourage Westerners to refresh their own preconceptions by exploring the vastly heterogeneous cyberspace.
These user-centric maps also inform policymakers about how better to empower the global South. Technical connectivity alone is not enough. For online regional cultures around the globe to strengthen, users must be able to build and shape the content they find appealing. For this to happen, local governments need to introduce civic, economic and social opportunities with new technologies. Left to a market dominated by West-based transnational corporations, the global South may not achieve healthy domestic Internet landscapes and online cultures.
India has been fervently debating Free Basics, a restricted Internet services bundle that is managed by Facebook and provided for free on Reliance Telecom’s mobile network.
Indian civil society and academia are enraged as Free Basics goes against the basic tenets of net neutrality. It takes away people’s right to choose what they want to access, exposes them to a very limited set of web content and apps decided by Facebook, and potentially threatens the privacy of their personal data.
Facebook on the contrary argues that something is better than nothing, and sees Free Basics as a magic bullet for connecting the uninitiated to the world’s information superhighway. Besides promoting it as a philanthropic endeavour, Facebook claims that customers enrolled onto Free Basics eventually upgrade to the full Internet when they see how wonderful it is to be connected to the Internet. According to Facebook’s data, 40% of its Free Basics users so far have done so, which is primarily the reason why Reliance Telecom is funding the free data in the first place.
Even if we were to believe Facebook that people would migrate to the (paid) open access Internet, we believe Free Basics, in its current form, is a poor way of offering Internet access to India’s unconnected billion, with undesirable consequences.
जी हाँ मैं भैंस हूँ और करीब 5000 साल से लगातार पानी में जा रही हूँ. जब भी किसी का कुछ भी बुरा हो रहा होता है तो हमेशा मुझे ही पानी में जाना पड़ता है. ना उस वक़्त मेरे नहाने की इच्छा होती और ना तैरने का मन. पर मुझे ना चाहते हुवे भी पानी में जाना पड़ता है.
तुम लोग कभी उस सफ़ेदमूही गाय को पानी में क्यों नहीं भेजते हो. और वैसे भी हम अल्पसंख्य हैं, हमसे कहीं ज्यादा गायें हैं भारत में. और शायद तुम्हे याद न हो, हमारे संविधान में सब बराबर हैं. पर इतना सब कुछ करने के बाद भी तुम लोगों ने हमें कभी अपना नहीं समझा. हमने क्या नहीं किया तुम्हारे लिये, तुम्हे अपने बच्चों का दूध दिया, तुम्हारे खेत जोते, तुम्हारे चूल्हे जलाये. कितने बलिदान दिए हमने पर तुम्हारे तो कान पर भैंस तक नहीं रेंगी.