Clear and present dangers of social media overreach

Last week, it was a post on the popular social media platform of #Facebook that flared communal
tensions in the eastern Indian state of #WestBengal. The post made by a #ClassTwelve student from the majority community had hundreds of people of the other community spilling on to the streets. Before one knew it, a mob of supposedly thousands of angry rioters damaged public property, burnt shops and fearing that the situation could turn ugly the government decided to call in #ParamilitaryForces. While the government in Bengal accused the opposition (read the #BJP) of stoking communal tensions and creating a situation that could lead to violence vocal critics of the government have in turn pointed fingers at the apparent appeasement of the minority community which has emboldened some mischievous elements. While that is a matter for debate and discussion what is worrying happens to be the way in which the virtual world is being used increasingly to create trouble in the real one.

Last week was also significant for social networking giant Facebook as it hit the magical #TwoBillion mark as far as #MonthlyUsers worldwide go. Now this comes a good thirteen years after it first came on the scene but more critically just five years after it reached one billion users. Clearly this is a #Behemoth that is growing exponentially with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. And it is not just the entrepreneurs and business community that realises the potential of this platform. Enough trouble makers are clued in to social media and these are trying times. It was only last year that the government in #Israel brought in legislative steps in order to keep a check on those who use social media for inciting violence. In fact, a delegation from Facebook visited the country where both sides discussed ways in which those acting against the law of the land could be thwarted.

The trouble is basic. Though the internet has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade lawmakers in countries of various parts of the world have not been able to match up this speed. #Cyberlaws were hazy back then and strangely enough continue to be so even to this day. For example if the perpetrators of a crime are away in a foreign land while the crime takes place elsewhere it makes catching up with them difficult and punishing them almost impossible. In the last few years #SeriousCrimes linked to social media have gone up quite drastically. Sample this. In the #UK alone statistics from the police reveal to us that there is a serious crime (murder, blackmail, crimes against women & children) reported by social media users every 45 minutes or so. Now those are worrying numbers, for sure. So what is the way out or should one say forward? What are the checks and balances that need to be put in place?

The need of the hour is to act swiftly and decisively against wrong doers but at the same time governments in these places must be careful not to use this as a pretext to curb the freedom to express free and fair opinions. And surely not to use this settle scores with those critical of the government by getting vindicative. So striking the right balance is key. Social media has the potential for making the world a better place. For every stakeholder, be it the business people, the end user customer and the casual internet surfer too. As long as it continues to be safe, reliable and trustworthy. It is important that people who use the internet use it responsibly and if they do not action has to be taken and appropriately. Be it the real world or the online one, some rules are meant to be.

Internet woes in Silicon Valley of India

Many folks are of the impression that it was the IT boom in the 1990s that transformed a sleepy town
like city into a vibrant, bustling megapolis that it is today. But truth is that this city has always been moving with the times, sometimes a step ahead even. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Bangalore became one of the first cities in Asia where motor vehicles started to be used for the purpose of transport and commuting. Shortly after (1906 was the year) the city also had the honour of becoming one of the first cities in this part of the world to get electricity which was fuelled by hydro power. In that sense, when it comes to science and technology the city of Bangalore has always had an edge over other cities of the country. Three years ago Bangalore became the first city of the country to start with free wifi hot spots to help IT and software professionals connect to the internet from anywhere at anytime. So it is a bit of an irony that Bangalore, widely regarded as the outsourcing capital of the world, has not been able to deliver high speed internet to it’s users.

Before we get into internet speed and data usage there are a few things that need to be made clear. The
world wide web has changed drastically in the last decade. Just take the average size of a web page itself. In the 1990s when the first web pages came into being they were hardly 300 Kilobytes or thereabouts in size. By the year 2010 addition of various softwares, customisations and applications had pushed this upto twice the size to around 700 kilobytes but today in the year 2017 this has shot to become more than 2 megabytes. Programming languages like Javascript and increased use of images is a major reason for this huge jump in webpage size. The implications of this are many. A webpage that is larger in size obviously will take longer time to load and knowing today’s users they will either try and reload the page if it is taking too long or just close it out and re open it.

The second critical factor is that of FUP short for Fair Usage Policy. This policy usually comes into the picture when a user opts for any unlimited plan. In order to ensure that more users get the best out of their broadband connections, internet providers set a data usage limit for users. So once you exceed this FUP limit you will still be able to get access to unlimited data but at reduced speeds. Now to understand the problem all you need to do is go through the broadband plans for all the leading providers in Bangalore and you will notice that there is something amiss. To make matters even more clear just compare these with the plans that the same providers are offering to customers in other cities, like Hyderabad for example. The crux of the problem lies with what happens to your internet speed once the FUP limit has been reached.

As explained already websites are only getting bigger and bigger in size every day and it is likely that every once in a while you will touch the FUP limit much before it is time to recharge. Where in places like Hyderabad your internet speed will still be decent enough (2 megabytes per second) even after the FUP limit has been breached, users in Bangalore are forced to make do with speeds as terribly low as 512/256 Kbps (kilo bytes per second) At these speeds most websites will not load or will take so long to do so that a user will run out of patience. Which means that perhaps in the middle of the month when there is some urgent work to be done your internet provider will leave you high and dry.One only hopes that this anomaly is corrected by the powers that be sooner than later. You cannot be the IT capital of the country and provide users with dial up connection speeds for internet usage. Not done, just not done.