We live in a Digital India where the Internet is the new frontier to be conquered. We are using the Internet at a much faster pace and it has become an integral part of our lives. We trust everything online – whether it’s our daily orders, bookings or any other crucial information; we believe we can rely on everything on the net. But this trust has its roots in ignorance as we don’t know how fragile it is and how quickly that trust can be broken. The information we find online is often false or misrepresented.
The Indian Cyber Ecosystem is rife with Digital Darkness. The country has been exposed to content takedowns by large online corporations and government agencies. History doesn’t repeat itself but it tells us that India had once again fallen prey to the Digital Shadow of content takedown.
Digital Darkness – What is it? Silence, an emptiness; dispelling all concerns of digital privacy. It is a true, and terrifying scenario of how digital content takedown works in India.
It’s the amount of online content that cannot be accessed due to censorship. This includes blogs, emails, websites and tweets. It impacts Indian citizens in a range of ways. It infringes their online freedom of speech, though they might not even realize it is happening. They even get affected by the policies of the government without knowing about it, as internet governance expands beyond public bodies into private ones as well. For instance, amendments in IT rules in order to tackle the plague of fake news and false information, which has also violated the right to free speech.
Digital Darkness is a series of appalling events that has been very much observed by the online community and is slowly making its way into light. In the age of information overload, aggregators and curators are vital for bringing sanity to the chaos. However, online content takedown laws may be the new barrier that might potentially put thousands of website owners at risk of going offline.
When the term Digital Darkness is used in India, it usually has a similar connotation to the term Digital Blackout that is widely talked about within developed nations. In fact, there are multiple parallels between these two concepts and because of this, the term is becoming increasingly frequent in the Indian subcontinent.
Developing countries go through a lot of internet censorship regimes. The government may often try to take control over the online content field itself. Section 69(A) of the IT Act,2000 grants Indian government this authority to protect India’s integrity, defence and security by dismantling the power of trolls and critics on social media. The takedown of tweets, posts and accounts on media channels like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube already lie unvarnished before the public.
In addition, in 2019, the Department of Telecommunications, issued a ‘website blocked’ notice to many Jio users prohibiting their connection to platforms like Reddit, Telegram, Indian Kannon, etc. Officials familiar with these matters say, from geo-blocking a single article to censoring entire websites, nearly 6,000 orders were issued from 2019 to 2021. This proves that the digital utopia we were promised isn’t here yet. Even Google has reported the bombardment of takedown requests by the Indian Government.
In India sledgehammer of censorship is wielded on the Internet and has plagued it with the widespread crackdown on online content by various government agencies. Over 518 imposed internet shutdowns, blackouts, interruption to civil liberties of press, more than 77,000 content takedown requests, over 9,000 web pages and URLs blocked, the Government seems to have revoked the heights of freedom of speech within a span of a few years.
Many of us here in India feel that we are losing our digital rights in spite of living in one of the fastest developing countries of the world. Issues like Net Neutrality, censorship, data privacy and freedom from state surveillance online are problems that are not being talked about as much as they should. We are often heard only when our rights affect a large number of users or end up as trending news on social media. Most often it seems like we as a community are always reacting, instead of proactively fighting for our rights.
Our digital future is bright, but we are in the dark ages at present. When your work, which you have spent months on, gets wiped out in a second, you realize what a vulnerable position you are in.