March 06, 2015

India Censors a Rape Documentary, and the Streisand Effect Goes Nuclear

We get a lot of laughs out of the so-called "Streisand Effect" -- the phenomenon of someone trying to cover up or otherwise limit public knowledge of some already public aspect of their life, and in the process drawing far more attention to the situation than would have been the case if they'd just kept quiet in the first place. When we're talking about a wealthy celebrity trying to suppress photos of their Malibu mansion -- that's what the Streisand Effect is named for, by the way -- at least a few chuckles seem entirely understandable.

But when governments unwittingly invoke the Streisand Effect via shortsighted, misguided, hamfisted attempts at censorship of important issues, it's difficult to find any humor on the stage.

So we now have the sorry spectacle of the government of India -- at least in theory the world's largest democracy -- petulantly and disastrously attempting to suppress the viewing of a BBC documentary exposing a nightmarish culture of rape within India itself.

That the situation has many complexities and subtleties is without question. A confluence of historical, cultural, religious, caste, and political forces are in play.

And while it's certainly true that problems with rape are not by any means restricted to India, the unique character of the problem there, including the bizarre twist of many government officials who apparently themselves have had accusations lodged against them involving abuse of women, creates a particularly convoluted tapestry.

It's into this sordid mix comes the new BBC documentary "India's Daughter" -- exploring in painfully but necessarily straightforward detail many key aspects and circumstances of this problem.

The Indian government had three choices in the face of this incredibly important film.

They could have ignored it. They could have embraced it as an element toward helping to solve their endemic problems with the abuse of women.

Then there's the choice they actually made -- the worst possible of them all.

The Indian government's choice was to attack the film, to attack the BBC, to attack the filmmaker -- then they acted as quickly as they could (but ineffectually, as we'll see) to try prevent their own citizens from seeing the documentary itself.

The actual visibility of the film in different parts of the world is tricky to catalog since it's a moving target, but one thing is pretty clear -- anyone who really wants to see it can find a way to do so.

The original broadcast version was on BBC-controlled outlets, and the BBC has followed its usual practice of asserting ownership rights to (try) remove unauthorized copies from the Net (e.g., from YouTube).

But the proliferation of copies -- both on YouTube and on other easily accessible Net venues -- has made that effort of limited success at best.

Of course since BBC does indeed control those rights, it's within their purview to exercise them.

The behavior of the government of India regarding this film falls into an entirely different category, however.

Variously asserting "risks to public order" and "damage to tourism" -- among other arguments -- the Indian government not only filed blocking demands with Google's YouTube -- with which Google has been complying as per local laws through geographical blocks --- but has also proclaimed the film a "defamation" of India. They've even proclaimed, seemingly taking a page from the EU's twisted sensibilities regarding "Right To Be Forgotten" censorship, that they'd like to find a way to ban the film globally.

Not a chance, India. Ain't gonna happen.

You know where this story is going. The censorship demands of India have vastly increased global awareness of "India's Daughter" and shot viewership globally (and in India) through the roof, for the multiplicity of copies and the relative ease of evading geo-blocks through a variety of technical means have made a laughingstock of the Indian government's reaction.

The real tragedy though isn't what this means for inept Indian government officials, but rather for the vast majority of people in India who are decent, hardworking, and even more horrified about the abuse of women in their country than are outside observers.

I've heard from a lot of them directly from India over the last couple of days.

Many heap criticism on their government, fearing that the government's behavior may be viewed in some quarters as an attempt to "cover up" or somehow justify abuse of women, and so reflect terribly on views of India globally.

Most note that they have been able to see the film despite the government's efforts to block it, and some are literally praying that the end result will be positive for India and particularly for women, despite their government's atrocious behavior.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, there are the vulgar trolls as well. I've been dealing with them on my Google+ threads on this topic -- I keep the "banhammer" on my belt right next to my phone, and the trapdoor lever is always close at hand -- and as usual these vermin have made their presence known on YouTube video comments as well.

You never want to feed the trolls, and you can't let yourself be distracted by them either.

Despite the immediate debacle of the Indian government's behavior regarding "India's Daughter" and their attempts to suppress it, the power of the Internet and yes, the Streisand Effect, will inevitably win the day in the end.

And regardless of angry machinations by Indian politicians against the best interests of their own citizens, the Internet sunlight pouring in to illuminate the specter of rape and other abuse of women in India is in the end unstoppable.

Not just in India, but around the entire globe, no matter how politicians pontificate and harass, ultimately the sands of censorship will still slip through their fingers.

This has tended to be historically true in the long run even before the time of the Internet, even before the coming of electronic communications in any form.

In the Internet age, it's even more of a truth that governments and leaders can attempt to ignore only unsuccessfully, and only with the most extreme of peril.


Posted by Lauren at March 6, 2015 11:15 AM | Permalink
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