Facebook furore | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 08, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 08, 2010

Facebook furore

HAPPILY, Facebook is back after a brief blockade that evoked criticism both at home and abroad. In an indiscreet decision the government blocked access to Facebook, a popular social networking site, because of posting of some anti-religious and porn links by users across the world. But the decision came after the arrest of a youth for uploading satiric images of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.
The blocking of Facebook raised some questions as the reason that prompted the authority to block the site, inconveniencing thousands of users, was quite flimsy. There are many ways to work in these hi-tech days, which one can take advantage of to indulge in activities that militate against social norms.
The sacrilege committed by some global users through posting a few pages in Facebook, might have caused offence to religious sentiment, and the government sought to protest it openly. But the ostensible reason for blocking Facebook was the caricatures of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition posted on it. The person who drew the caricatures should be dealt with in accordance with the law, but there is no point in victimising all the users.
Innumerable images of former US president George W. Bush, with ridiculous exaggeration of his role in the Iraq invasion, were posted on Facebook when he was in power, but the US government did not block the site.
The crime of a single person or a group of people is not a strong ground for blocking Facebook, which is used by nearly one million people in the country. Surely, most of these users belong to the segment of population who are likely to be the driving force for any future program leading to Digital Bangladesh.
Facebook is a social networking medium through which people, mostly the young, record their impressions and exchange views. It now has more than 400 million active users across the world, and is proving a vibrant forum for young and thinking participants. So, some basic principles are involved here as blocking of such site amounts to denial of freedom of expression.
It is incomprehensible as to why the government chose to block the entire site while there was option of complaining to the Facebook authority for immediate removal of any anti-social contents or to block individual profiles. Experience tells one that the temporary ban makes people more inquisitive about the contents, and they skirt around the restriction to view those more widely.
In an era of free flow of information and instant communication, one will surely appreciate appropriate action against those who abuse the facility. Allegations of Facebook being used to undermine reputations, particularly of young women, are being heard from different corners. A better step would be to take legal action against individual offenders. Collective punishment is an affront that goes against the principle of justice.
The government also blocked the video sharing website YouTube in March last year for hosting a recorded conversation between the prime minister and army officers after the BDR carnage. The hosting of such a sensitive matter on any social network calls for stern action. However, taking action must not mean clamping a block on the entire site.
Pakistan's government ordered internet service providers to block Facebook on May -- 19 amid anger over a page that encourages users to post images of Prophet Mohammad (sm). The page on the social networking site has generated criticism in Pakistan and elsewhere because Islam prohibits any images of the prophet.
The government took action after a group of Islamic lawyers won a court order requiring officials to block Facebook. Besides Facebook, YouTube was also blocked in Pakistan for sacrilegious content. Pakistan can do it, but it need not be emulated, least of all through such an undemocratic action.
"India and Facebook is a match made in heaven," says a Daily Beast columnist. Facebook has over 200 million users in India, which has created a huge opportunity for growth. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and the International Road Federation (IRF) of India are planning to use social networking websites like Facebook, micro-blogging site Twitter and video sharing site YouTube to spread awareness about road safety and help reduce fatal accidents by 50% in the next three years.
Recently, the ministry and IRF launched a national campaign, "Reduction of Road Fatalities." According to a report on road safety by WHO, India tops the global list of deaths in road accidents with 125,000 fatalities and at least 2.2 million serious injuries each year. Delhi police are now using Facebook to address traffic problems.
Facebook users in India were greeted with a new message upon logging in. Facebook is now available in Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam. Those languages have a combined 770 million speakers in India.
Privacy advocacy groups criticised recent Facebook innovations that had left customers data more exposed. The shift is an about-face for Facebook's brash 26-year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg, who has dismissed privacy as an old-fashioned social norm that is at odds with the ability to profit by giving advertisers and other companies more access to its customers' data and web habits.
In response to irate users and advocacy groups, Facebook authority recently announced that it has modified its privacy settings to make it easier for people to control who gets to see their personal information. Many people applaud Facebook for making the changes, though many feel it still has further to go to safeguard people's privacy.
The US is Facebook's largest market with more than 125 million users, but it is far from being the only country where Facebook is all the rage. According to the website checkbook, which tracks the company's growth, the UK is the second biggest market with more than 27 million users, followed by Indonesia with nearly 25 million.
Facebook has a lot of social utilities, including connecting people with friends and others who live around them. Bangladesh also has a huge opportunity to use it as a means for development, as has been done in India. Blocking of this site brought no benefit for the government as the determined users discovered ways to circumvent the blockade.
The injudicious action of the government did not only betray its democratic mindset but was also incompatible with its avowed aim of building a Digital Bangladesh. This Facebook furore was just a bit of fury ahead of the fledgling insurrection by the one million users in Bangladesh. Trying to ward off this reality can only be considered to be myopic.
A.N.M. Nurul Haque is a columnist of The Daily Star. Email:anmnhaque@hotmail.com.

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