7 December 2019 09:20 AM

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MOHAMMAD IRSHAD | 30 NOVEMBER, 2019

Injustice of Information Pollution - Troll Armies, Fake News

Troll armies and fake news are the result of a well thought out project


While there is a severe crisis of environment pollution faced by many major cities in the country, civil society has raised a right hue and cry to diagnose the cause and fix the problem.

Earlier this month chief minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted “Delhi has turned into a gas chamber” – which should worry us all, as we all breathe in air from the same deadly chamber.

Society seems blind, however, to the magnitude of information pollution prevailing in the information ecology, or infosphere.

The infosphere, as defined by Oxford philosopher Luciano Floridi, comprises the totality of information entities, including the agents of process, their properties and mutual relations.

Environment injustice results in a deteriorating natural environment for many, due to the actions of a few.

Information injustice results in a similar divide, between the information-rich and information-poor.

This will further produce new slums, deprived of access to information which is factual, meaningful and productive.

Information is thus exploited, disfigured and constructed without any verifiable trace of its original historical existence.

This external and partly real infosphere is potentially as harmful as pollution in the natural physical environment. Yet there is a yawning gulf between policies to counter the two kinds of pollution.

Information pollution receives no serious intervention to clean up the information environment, whether from political parties, government authorities, businesses or civil activists.

The Department of Telecommunications published a regulatory framework on ‘net neutrality’ last year, clause 3.1 of which reads that the government is committed to the fundamental principles and concepts of net neutrality.

This policy framework does not mention the significance of factual, ethically correct and just information.

The Right to Information Act of 2005 likewise provided immense power to ordinary citizens to gain access to public information. Taking it forward, another initiative should be launched for the right to access true, correct and factual information. This must not be confined to public documents, but must encompass private institutions as well, which are beyond the purview of the RTI Act.

The online territory enabled with the rise of the commercial internet generates disparate social constituencies, where political parties and businesses can peddle their vested interests to their online constituencies.

Troll armies and fake news are the result of this well thought out project.

Like environment pollution, this upsets all humans equally irrespective of differences of caste, religion and gender. Information pollution moreover contributes to discrimination, supremacism and hierarchy of all kinds.

It also ignores the significance of a fairly informed person for the advancement of society.

Both forms of pollution pose an equal threat to the health of the earth and humankind.

The central government must expand the horizons of its Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Pure India Mission) to remove and filter massive information waste. The online geography continues to grow at breakneck pace in India. It is incumbent on us to stop this territory from getting polluted.

As the country sets up the infrastructure to digitally empower its citizens, these digital Indians must also be empowered to discriminate between fact, fiction, and propaganda.

From here emerges the demand to attribute some rights and responsibilities to digital citizens. Substantial new virtual communities have emerged. Only a democratic and egalitarian information environment can foster a just and sustainable society.

A democracy puts a great deal of its basic principles at risk in contemporary times, if the users and makers of information technologies are not granted some rights with a minimum commitment to responsibility.

Unbiased, factual and just information will help us become better equipped to counter the severe problems of our society. A swachh information society will thrive on the highest standards of ethical and legal morality to justly accommodate everybody.

Separate, independent institutions are the need of the hour to deter misinformation, disinformation, and spread accurate information for a healthy information ecology.

Mohd Irshad teaches philosophy at the Indraprastha College for Women.

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