Apropos of Tip of the Suckerberg (April 9), no link based on an internet application is ever safe, as it is impossible to fully secure any data or information put on the internet. As such, anything on Facebook, and even Aadhaar, becomes public information. The Congress is being blamed for data misuse by the BJP and vice versa. In reality, no political parties or politicians can be trusted when it comes to such matters.
M. Kumar, On E-Mail
For India, the big message from all this is the need for a comprehensive data protection law. Data is the new oil, but emergent digital business can do without robber barons sucking up this resource.
J. Akshay, On E-Mail
The past two weeks have been so full of data talk that it almost makes me want to dismiss the hue and cry around it. To think that data harvesting directly led to Trump’s appointment to the White House is a wee bit delusional. Yes, data harvesting has its impacts, particularly in identifying and predicting voting patterns, but they can only work to an extent. Media outlets have spent hours analysing how Cambridge Analytica stole people’s data, but there was nothing about how exactly they used it to make people vote for the Republicans. They mention that customised campaigning did the job for Trump. Can we have a look at these campaigns? It’s funny to see our own TV channels harp about this ‘grave’ theft with a #Datagate flashing on the screen. The anchors seem to have gobbled up the op-eds without much clue. An Arnab Goswami data debate should be fun. It may just predict the next apocalypse at the hands of Zuckerberg and co.
Harsh Chatterjee, Bangalore
It has always dumbfounded me to see the sort of information people post on Facebook before complaining of privacy breaches when they are taken advantage of. People sync their contacts, tag themselves on photos, add their phone number, tell Facebook who their relatives are, where they were educated, where they work etc. Some people have even turned on facial recognition. Facebook is not a charity organisation; it is there to make money and its founder is one of the richest people in the world. They have built sophisticated mechanisms for extracting users’ personal information and refining them for sale to advertisers. But for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, none of this would be known. People need to grow up and take control of their own data from now on.
H.N. Ramakrishna, Michigan
This is about Outlook’s article on the scandals that plague cricket and how to combat the same (Blongers Must Walk, Apr 9). We are almost getting used to seeing the spirit of sportsmanship absent from cricket and other sports in recent years. Doping scandals plague the landscape of sports today, giving rise to unhealthy scepticism among viewers. Then there is an increase in instances of ball-tampering. The gentleman’s game has already been polluted by multiple match-fixing exposes. Smith and his partners in crime have let down their fans. Modern sport exemplifies the ethos of a maddeningly competitive society in which ends hold sway over means. Alas, the logic of the free market has drowned the most honourable of things.
L.J. Singh, On E-Mail
Weren’t Steve Smith and David Warner aware of the patent reality that there were as many as 30 cameras on the ground, which ‘follow the ball’ at all times? In that light, their ball tampering attempt was stupidly brazen; what world are these players living in! Cricket Australia’s punishment of one year handed to the disgraced players was too mild a punishment in my opinion. I don’t think it will prove to be a deterrent to others. The BCCI banning both Smith and Warner from captaining the Rajasthan Royals and the Sun Risers was laudable.
K.P. Rajan, Mumbai
The exile award-winning ball-tampering burlesque was brilliantly scripted by David Warner, skilfully directed by Smith, but poorly enacted by Cameron Bancroft. The one-year ban on Smith and Warner and the nine-month suspension of Bancroft may not mean much. They can bounce back again. But the IPL ban on Smith and Warner will pinch them badly. Smith loses Rs 23 crore and Warner Rs 19.5 crore. This should surely keep them from planning such a thing again. Still, the noblest part of the punishment is the direction that “all three players will be required to undertake 100 hours of voluntary service in community cricket”. No scope for ball-tampering there!
C.V. Venugopalan, Palakkad
Since he became Congress president, Rahul Gandhi suddenly seems to have matured, understanding full well the demands of the times. He now projects himself as a serious politician who is more than willing to take everybody along with him (Raga Darbari on High Notes, Apr 2). It’s essential too, for he takes over the command of the party at a time when it has virtually been reduced to an ‘also ran’ election after election. If the Congress manages to retain Karnataka, which is going to polls next month, both the party and its president will get a huge fillip.
Vijai Pant, On E-Mail
Apropos Digital Falsities To Prime Likes (April 2), Facebook owns the digital versions of our real-life relationships, whether with family or friends. The internet permits theoretically infinite replicas of such relationships, but only a few, such as the versions on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, have significant monetary value—as can be seen from these companies’ billion-plus-dollar market capitalisations. It is being argued that users willingly traded away these assets for the derived value; that is, connecting with any friend around the world. A tiny number of professionals in Silicon Valley have captured these assets. The 2016 US Presidential election and the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook fracas should serve as a flashing red light, even in India. It seems that people have rightly begun to feel a sense of disquiet about these media platforms. Facebook is not a harmless platform anymore, we know that it has consequences.
Prakash Hanspaul, On E-Mail
This refers to Raga Darbari On High Notes, your cover story on Rahul Gandhi. While the sensationalist PM Modi is taking the public for a ride, Rahul is winning hearts with his simplicity. But the Congress is still not able to convince people of its capabilities. It has also not been able to expose the BJP’s gross mismanagement in states like Chhattisgarh and MP. The BJP government is performing poorly, but its leaders are good at distracting the public’s focus by making use of their twisted rhetoric. Rahul needs to devise a workable counter to this.
Vanet DeSouza, On E-Mail
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Apart from winning Punjab and a good number of assembly seats in Gujarat, Rahul has not done much to elicit attention. While he fought ferociously in Gujarat, he lost lamentably in the North-East. In UP and Bihar he just played the role of a junior partner. The real litmus test for the Congress president will be the Karnataka assembly polls, where he is playing for high stakes by mixing politics and religion. If Rahul loses Karnataka, his objective of working with like-minded parties to evolve a common workable programme to defeat the BJP might come a cropper. Other parties, having their own political orientation, might be chary of accepting Rahul as their leader. In the Congress plenary session, Rahul spent more time targeting Modi than in spelling out a clear alternative for the country’s major economic problems like unemployment, farmers’ distress or education. However, I thought that the economic resolution recommending the imposition of 5 per cent cess on the country’s one per cent richest was the highlight of the session, for it could narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. Rahul has compared the Congress to the Pandavas from the Mahabharata. But if the Congress really wants to beat the BJP, Rahul must try and piece together a credible anti-BJP coalition to be able to win the Kurukshetra war of 2019.
Kangayam R. Narasimhan, Chennai
I refer to Game of the Ashramites. It’s interesting to see the extremely low bar Rahul Gandhi has to clear in order to become cover story material for media outlets like Outlook. He gives an ‘ok’ speech (god knows who wrote it) at best and visits a few temples, and the media thinks he is PM material.
Akash Verma, Chennai
As you rightly pointed out, most Congressmen/women are not aware of the heritage they have gained, accidentally. The Congress was the political party responsible for the independence of India. That makes it a national treasure—and the present office bearers of the party are its custodians, including Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. They are not the owners of the party. Sadly, this thought is missing from the head of the typical ‘Congressi’. This can be gauged from their conduct and public utterances. Under the garb of secularism, most Congressmen are actually communal and divisive. This statement is completely justified, one only has to count the number of Congress leaders who have left the party to join the BJP on such flimsy grounds as not getting a ticket or an office-bearer’s post. Most importantly, they all are arrogant. Their arrogance was spilling over when they were in office.
Gilbert D’Souza, Bangalore
The optimism around the SP-BSP camps for a bright electoral future is understandable given their recent wins in the UP bypolls. But what is the Congress party celebrating after losing its deposits in all the bypolls? It only makes for a case of “Begani Shaadi Mein Abdullah Diwana” (beating the drums in someone else’s wedding).
Pramod Srivastava, On E-Mail
A ‘combative’ Rahul Gandhi! So says Outlook. While reading the article, I had those moments of doubt about whether I was reading an INC newsletter or a news magazine. It eventually dawned upon me: Outlook is efficiently handling its job as an unofficial mouthpiece of the Congress. It is not mere chance that they think Rahul has come of age. It is also not a coincidence that this issue came out around April fool’s day. The joke’s on us, I guess.
Ravi, On E-Mail
The ‘boy who cried wolf’ can only go so far as to be patronised once in a while by a media house.
Jitendra Kamath, On E-Mail
This refers to Minority Position (April 2). It is unfortunate that the Karnataka state cabinet approved the recommendation of the Justice Nagamohan Das-headed expert committee to accord the status of minorities to the “Lingayat and Veerashaiva Lingayat” communities.What would such a decree actually mean? It would mean that Lingayats and Veerashaiva Lingayats, one of Karnataka’s leading communities, will have special privileges under Section 25, 28, 29 and 30 of the Constitution.These include the right to profess and propagate their religion, access to special religious instruction and worship and, perhaps most importantly, the freedom to run and manage minority educational institutions. The latter is sure to benefit several Lingayat educational trusts, which exist all over the state, but especially flourish in north Karnataka. Lingayats already enjoy a 15 per cent reservation under categories 2A and 3B of the OBCs in Karnataka. Of course Lingayats in Telangana too enjoy reservations. With this particular demand having been around for years, the question,of course, is the timing. And that, clearly, is political—the Congress is desperate to hold on to its gateway to the south and the BJP is determined to breach it and set up its own. Accommodating many sects and giving them autonomy and empowerment is nothing new. Nor is conflict between different schools of Hinduism. This is why Hinduism, a religion without a book, pope or any rigid commandments is considered more a way of life. Not all Lingayats, who are also found in Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, want a separate religion. They consider themselves a part of Hinduism, albeit with distinctive features. All this has been obscured as the battle for Karnataka gains momentum. What could have been a debate on the assimilative genius of Hinduism will now be reduced to a discussion about electoral mathematics and vote banks.
P. Arihanth, Hyderabad
Will the Congress party reap the benefit of providing religious minority status to Lingayats in the upcoming Karnataka Assembly polls? This is the million dollar question, although CM Siddaramaiah seems to believe that it will help his party get at least 10 to 20 per cent of Lingayat votes.
Who are Lingayats? They are followers of the 12th century reformer Basavanna who rejected the caste hierarchy and vedic rituals. Lingayats do not consider themselves Hindus, having rejected the tenets of traditional Hinduism like karma, ritualism and caste, and having emphasised the necessity as well as the dignity of labour. Veerashaivism attracted converts from all castes, including Dalits. The new religion followed the teachings of Basavanna based on a rigid doctrine of monotheism—Shiva is regarded as the supreme transcendent entity. Over the centuries the Veerashaivas became an endogamous community called Lingayats, distinguished by the Shivalinga and rudraksha on their person. Of course, Shiva is one of the principal deities of Hinduism. He is the supreme being within Shaivism, one of the major traditions within contemporary Hinduism. If Shiva is a Hindu deity then surely Lingayats too are Hindus.
J. Akshobhya, Mysore
Our leaders have inherited the mantra of ‘divide and rule’ from the British and are following it with zest; the RSS and the BJP in particular have perfected it, and thus reaped a rich harvest. Now, the supposedly different Congress is following in their footsteps. Siddaramaiah’s decision to classify Lingayats as a religious minority is one step in this direction, as is Rahul Gandhi’s ‘soft hindutva’—a way for him to have his cake and eat it.
Rakesh Agarwal, Dehradun
This refers to your editorial comment Congress & Media (April 2). Given the lack of committed ground-level workers in the Congress, the very question of their return to power does not arise. Those who live in their own air-conditioned shells, despite their quest for their lost sultanate, are naturally wary of the unsympathetic electronic media, lest a slip of the tongue betray their arrogance. In sharp contrast, the BJP’s RSS cadre-based footsoldiery comes fully brainwashed from childhood in the shakhas. To these disciplined soldiers of the Hindu Rashtra, independent thinking looks like a luxury they cannot afford if they are to rise up the ranks. Like the cavaliers in Lord Tennyson’s poem The Charge of the Light Brigade, their only mantra is: “Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die,” as per the command of their Nagpur-based top guns. The Congress can regain its relevance to Indian politics only if its leaders adjust with anybody who stands for pluralism, secularism and social justice, without asking “what’s in it for me?” Basking in their glorious past will not do.
M.N. Bhartiya, Goa
With reference to Malice As News (March 26). I do not have a computer or smartphone and I am totally ignorant of the consequences of having a Facebook or of such things being abused. But if I am not mistaken, this is not the first time that scientific inventions have been misused by people for the sake of power—remember how the Chinese invented black powder (gunpowder) and used it mostly for fireworks, before it was weaponised. So, perhaps the article should have been titled ‘Malice in the name of scientific inventions.’
G.L. Karkal, Pune
This refers to the column No Quarter for the Innocent (April 2) by Talmiz Ahmad. The consequences for non-believers living in a Muslim country infected with Wahhabism are well known. The loss of 39 innocent lives is unfortunate, but the odds of their surviving were anyway very low. Sushma needlessly kept high hopes.
In the four years since the BJP came to power, it has led many successful operations to rescue Indian citizens from extremists. In the case of the 39 killed in the Middle East, the external affairs minister made several statements in Parliament, claiming the hostages were alive. The intention might have been to avoid anguish to the victims’ kin, but in the end it turned out to be counterproductive as they came to know of the deaths on TV. The minister should have just said that the hostages were missing and the government was doing its best.
Lal Singh, Amritsar
This is about Talmiz Ahmed’s column on the fate of the 39 Indians who were killed by ISIS in Mosul, Iraq (No Quarter For The Innocent, April 2). It’s unbelievable that despite having a diplomatic mission in Baghdad, our government was totally in the dark about the fate of the Indians four years ago. It’s another instance of our intelligence failure. Had the government followed up what Harjit Masih (the lone survivor of the carnage) had revealed—that all were killed by ISIS in 2014 itself, at least their bodies could have been brought home earlier, instead of serving false hope to their hapless families.
Such tragedies happen in conflict-ridden areas like Iraq, more so when a murderous group like ISIS operates with impunity. What is unacceptable is how the external affairs ministry gave hope to the families and told them that efforts were on to locate the men, while dismissing media reports and the account of the lone survivor. It seems there was no urgency on the part of the government to find out the facts, granted that it was fiendishly difficult to do so in a strife-torn country. As it is, when the news was broken a few days back, it came as an utter shock to the relatives, who were living under some hope up till this point.
K.R. Srinivasan, Secunderabad
The ‘land scam’ controversy has embarrassed not just the top Catholic clergy in Kerala, but a chunk of the state’s Christian community (Sheep Call The Shepherd Wolf, April 2). The laity has all the rights to know the business deals taking place in bishops’ houses, as the Church’s properties, institutions and other wealth all ultimately come from the contributions of laymen. The Church Act proposed by the Law Reforms Commission has to be implemented, as the clergy have no right to manipulate the finances.
P.A. Jacob, Muscat
I write about the story on how West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee is trying to cobble together a federal front for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls to counter the march of the BJP (Sister’s Need For Unity, April 2). It’s high time that the CPI(M)’s senior leadership rethought their strategy to halt the juggernaut of Hindutva forces, and stopped keeping the Trinamool and the Congress at arm’s length citing ‘ideological differences’. Actually, had they allied with the Congress, they would not have lost so badly in Tripura. To bolster the fight against the BJP’s aggressive posturing in Bengal, the Left should swallow their ego and knit an alliance of progressive liberals, even if it means playing second fiddle to Mamata. Didi’s efforts in this direction should not be blunted by stubborn Marxist intellectuals.
Shailendra Dasari, Ballary
If a federal front can be mounted against the NDA, and if it can edge past the BJP in the 2019 polls, then Mamata could actually become prime minister with the help of regional chieftains like Sharad Pawar, Chandrababu Naidu and K. Chandrasekhara Rao, with the Congress lending outside support. But will it happen? Narendra Modi has a huge party apparatus, including the trained and dedicated RSS, which has expanded its footprints all over the country. But Mamata will have to bend backwards to assuage the egos of the regional supremos if she has any ambition to claim leadership.
This is with reference to News As A Goebbelsian Tweet (March 26). This cover headline hits the nail on its head. Going by the way the various IT cells of political parties have been working overtime to create social media ‘trends’, it can be said with some confidence that today, news has indeed been reduced to mere propaganda. Every player is playing the social media game. But the BJP takes the cake for being the most organised and coordinated player. Thanks to actor-turned-BJP MP Paresh Rawal’s slippery fingertips, a BJP IT cell document found its way to Twitter. The document is a clear example of how political parties are using social media for vicious attacks on rivals. But, why blame social media alone? Just switch on TV news and you will get a taste of both the trolling and the baseless opinions that form the bedrock of fake news. The hashtags will not leave you there either. It suffices to say that in these post-truth times, fake news is just news.
Avinash Bhatia, New Delhi
Trolls have become a big part of our digital ecosystem, thanks to the way social media is designed. Well, as per freedom of expression, one is entitled to one’s opinion, even, indeed, one’s rage, and thus, we need to realise that social media will always come with an amount of trolling. But the reality of it is rather scary. Trolling has reached crazy proportions, with vicious attacks launched for character assassination as well as harassment of all kinds.
George Jacob, Kochi
According to the research quoted in your cover story Malice As #News, “fake news travels faster on Twitter and perhaps even faster on Facebook”. It is said that around 63 per cent of all tweets on Twitter are merely copy-pasted. This can disseminate falsehood significantly farther, faster and deeper than the truth in all categories of information. Interestingly, the effects of false political news are far more pronounced than the effects of false news about other things. Since political parties are bound to gain electoral dividends by spreading misinformation, no one holds back. Social media has become a battlefield-cum-cesspool of falsehood and it is almost impossible to control or regulate it. There is no way to know which piece of information on social media is factual. I don’t think that genuine news-seekers go to Twitter, Facebook, and online news websites for their daily dose of news. Within seconds of any development, thousands of posts flood Twitter and Facebook, but except social media fanatics, who goes through all that trash and trolling? I don’t.
M.C. Joshi, Lucknow
Since right-wing commentators are often blind and paid bhakts, these ‘patriotic’ cyber soldiers—Facebook warriors and Twitter terrorists—cannot indulge in any serious debate and discussion. Therefore, they resort to trolling. Now, when the abuse by some of these trolls has started backfiring, thanks to the law of diminishing returns, like their promise of achhe din (good days), the desperadoes have resorted to another time-tested weapon—fake news. In fake news land, any current issue can be twisted beyond the laws of physics. People can suddenly be quoted on things no one remembers they said. Take, for instance, the rumour that the death of Nobel laureate and physicist Stephen Hawking sparked. None other than a union minister claimed that Hawking, on his 2001 visit to India, had said that cosmic knowledge in the Vedas had falsified Albert Einstein’s famous equation of relativity; E=MC2. Hawking, obviously, had made no such claim!
Another fake news item was found floating on the virtual waters right after the Araria byelection in Bihar, where the BJP lost the seat to the RJD candidate. The electoral loss must have sent bhakts into quite a tizzy, as they were seen circulating the news that Muslim supporters of the RJD candidate who won the Araria seat were shouting anti-India slogans. A random video was posted and reposted several times on Facebook for this purpose.
Thanks to new media sites like Alt News, shows like Viral Sach—broadcast by ABP News—and magazines like Outlook, people can see through some of these vicious lies. But, the question is: How can this menace be effectively controlled? It is very difficult to set things right once the seeds of doubt are sown. And today, we have a whole culture where trolls are working overtime to sow the seeds of lies by spreading fake news in order to destroy India’s plural and composite culture.
Rakesh Agrawal, Dehradun
Trolls are the vermin of the internet, spreading the contagious virus of lies and slander.
Richa Gupta, New Delhi
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