Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Quote of the day

"I never believed the whole ‘I’m happy single’ spiel. I was like, 'This is totally spiel.' It took me a long time, but I’m very happy. I call it being self-partnered." That’s actor Emma Watson inventing a new synonym for ‘single’—and it took social media by storm. The rest of us will remain plain old ‘partnered’ for now.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Twitter’s free speech controversy in India

Twitter removed the account of a Supreme Court advocate twice! And now he is taking them to court. Their decision is raising new questions about their content policy in India. 

What happened here? Here’s how the controversy unfolded:

  • Sanjay Hegde’s account (@sanjayuvacha) was first suspended on October  27. The reason: the cover photo on his profile. It was an iconic 1936 photograph which shows one man—August Landmesser—refusing to do the Nazi salute in a crowd of Germans at a Hitler rally. 

  • After some hue and cry, Twitter restored his account the very next day. At the time, Hegde said, “When they unlocked the account, they removed the cover picture. I reinstated it. Don’t think they will make the same mistake twice… I think words like Hitler, Nazi catch the algorithm of Twitter or some intern must have done it.”

  • Then on Monday, Twitter suspended his account again! The reason: a 2017 retweet. Hegde had retweeted a poem posted by feminist activist and lawyer Kavita Krishnan that protested the hanging of two peasant revolutionaries. All he had added in his tweet was the title of the poem: ‘Hang Him’. (Note: there has been no action taken against Krishnan)

  • Hegde says, “That [the title] seemed to have triggered off some AI (artificial intelligence) bots, but this time it was clear that those bots weren’t automatically triggered off but had been possibly mass reported by organised IT cells and troll factories.”

  • Hegde appealed the decision, asking for a human to read the RT in context. Twitter, however, is sticking to its guns. The platform will restore Hegde’s account only if he deletes the tweet. Its response once again mentions the use of “hateful or sensitive content in your profile.” 

  • Hegde now says he will take Twitter to court—either in India or outside. He also claims the entire episode was “planned”: “There is some group called Rashtriya Hindu Ekta Dal or something of that sort, which have claimed credit as have several others.”

  • Also: #RestoreSanjayuvacha is trending as angry Twitterati protest its decision.

Who is this person? A senior advocate at the Supreme Court, Hegde is viewed as an anti-establishment voice, and has been highly critical of the Modi government. In his profile bio, he described himself as a “militant secularist.” The account had nearly 100,000 followers at the time it was suspended. Hegde also writes columns for a variety of news publications. Read his take on the Supreme Court, Kashmir and lynching to get a sense of his politics. 

Why is this a big deal? This is not about Hedge. This is about Twitter’s highly inconsistent definition of offensive speech, especially in India. Here are some examples.

  • A recent Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report showed that the company removed nearly one million tweets and blocked almost 100 accounts from view in India as part of their “country withheld” content policy. Most of them were critical of the government’s Kashmir policy—and most were in response to requests made by the government.

  • Also: more accounts were withheld in India in the second half of 2018 than in the rest of the world combined.

  • Then there’s Twitter’s absurdly lenient policy toward anti-Muslim content. Last month, a top trending hashtag was '“#मुस्लिमो_का_संपूर्ण_बहिष्कार” (Total boycott of Muslims). The tweets demanded an economic boycott, a ban on Muslim schools, and described all Muslims as terrorists. 

  • Twitter also took zero action against Abhishek Mishra who tweeted, "Cancelled Ola cabs booking because the driver was Muslim. I don't want to give my money to Jihadi people.” It also did not take away his blue tick or suspend his account—all of which are possible penalties under its "hateful conduct policy." Twitter’s response: "We have investigated the reported content and couldn't identify any violations of the Twitter Rules or applicable law. "

  • Just this week, a social media campaign led by Dalit activists and lawyers called out Twitter for caste discrimination, claiming that it “is discriminating against SC-ST-OBC activists in suspending & verifying their accounts.”

To be fair: Twitter is highly pro-establishment in its policies even in the United States. It has given President Trump a total pass on tweets that—as US senator Kamala Harris notes—“threaten people and incite and inspire violent behavior." And it has been soft on rightwing pro-Trump rhetoric advocating violence.

A more telling fact: about the company’s priorities: A study by the Knight Foundation found that more than 80% of accounts involved in spreading disinformation during the US 2016 election are still active on Twitter. 

The bottomline: For all their lofty rhetoric on free speech, the biggest tech companies are far too willing to bend and twist their policies to serve their interests. In India, Twitter likely doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of the government—or its supporters who form a significant presence on its platform. In the United States, it is unwilling to challenge the president—which will inevitably trigger rage among his loyal and powerful base. But the result, however, is a dangerous form of censorship where certain people and ideas are more easily silenced than others.

Learn more: The Wire and Huffington Post unpack the controversy over Twitter’s policy on anti-Muslim content. Read the original CPJ report on Kashmir, or the Newsweek story on it. The Print has the caste discrimination campaign and the most details on the Hegde case.

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starting a petition for a four-day work week

Playing cops and lawyers: Thousands of Delhi police personnel flooded the streets in protest yesterday. The reason: an ongoing war with the city’s lawyers.

  • It all started with a fight over a parking spot which turned into an all-out brawl between lawyers and policemen on Saturday. People were injured on both sides.

  • The Delhi High Court on Sunday basically took the side of the lawyers: ordered a judicial inquiry; transfer of two senior police officials; and ordered the Delhi government to give compensation to the injured lawyers. 

  • Then a clip showing lawyers beating up an on-duty policeman went viral—and enraged the Delhi police who then poured out onto the streets to fight for their human rights.

  • By the end of the day, most of their demands had been met. The High Court order will be reviewed. Injured police personnel will receive monetary compensation as well. And the lawyers who were seen hitting the policeman will be charged. 

  • Why do the protectors need protection? Times of India offers an excellent explanation.

Nobody’s missing Jet Airways: Here’s good news for everyone who was worried that losing an entire airline would cramp their flying schedule: there are more planes in the air than ever. The number of domestic planes in the air is larger than ever at 618—thanks to IndiGo and SpiceJet who have been making hay after Jet's demise. But the airline has left a significant void in the international market—especially long haul routes to Europe and beyond. Want to fly Indian to London? Say hello to the Maharajah! (Business Standard)

New Zealand’s arranged shaadi row: Under the nation’s liberal immigration laws, a couple does not need to be married in order to apply for a spousal visa. However, they have to prove that they have lived together for at least 12 months—a clause that was waived under “special cultural circumstances”… until now. As a result, lots of NRIs who have arranged marriages in India have been summarily disqualified, and it’s making them very angry. (The Guardian)

No samosa for you, kiddo! The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India is gearing up to ban all junk food on school campuses—and within 50 metres of a school. Any kind of food with high levels of fat, sugar or salt will be either outright prohibited or “discouraged.” So no chips, samosas, colas, noodles, burgers or pizzas. Right, doting parents will now send the stuff in their dabbas instead. (The Telegraph)

Infosys is sacking people: and that includes assistant and senior VPs. Ten percent (2200) of its senior managers are history in the recent round of layoffs. In the middle rung, it is letting go of 2-5% of its staff, i.e. anywhere between 4,000 to 10,000 employees. (Economic Times

Trump ruins Nepali women’s lives: Soon after his election, President Trump activated the “global gag rule” (GGR) which bans US funding of foreign NGOs that provide abortion counseling or referrals. And he made it worse: organisations that receive US aid can’t even use their own, non-US funds to offer abortion counselling. The rule is threatening the lives of poor women who desperately need access to medical information and care. (BuzzFeed News)

Oyo’s pot of brewing troubles: Sure, it's SoftBank’s little darling with a massive valuation (see our explainer). But Oyo’s recent track record is a bit aiyyo! For example:

  • A Bengaluru hotel owner has filed a cheating case against founder Ritesh Agarwal, claiming unpaid dues. Oyo has issued fierce denials, but sadly he has since been joined by multiple hotel trade associations accusing Oyo of “online fraud.” The reason: unpaid dues and hidden and unreasonable fees.

  • The other place it has an ‘unpaid dues’ problem: the United States, which is being touted as the great new frontier for the company.

  • Government agencies in India are also investigating its partnership with MakeMyTrip as a possible ‘unfair advantage’ issue.

  • Also: one person was found dead in an OYO hotel due to electrocution (i.e. crap fixtures), while an employee in a Gurgaon Oyo Hotel was accused of raping a guest. 

The satyagrahi Indian in ICE custody: A Haryana farmer-activist took the very long way to the United States—via Ecuador, across the Colombian border, through the rain forests of Panama, across Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras, and then Mexico. Ajay Kumar turned himself in to the US immigration authorities as is the practice of anyone seeking asylum—and spent the next year being beaten, humiliated and repeatedly thrown into solitary confinement (though seeking asylum is not a crime). In protest, Kumar went on a hunger strike, endured being painfully force fed, and went partially blind. He is now free to tell his story—though chances are that he will most likely be deported. (New Yorker)

Anupam Uncle’s brunch treat: Anupam Kher took a bunch of poor kids to brunch at the Sun N Sand hotel. There was someone on hand to helpfully film the happy occasion (watch it here). Twitter khush nahin hua. 

Four-day work weeks actually work! Microsoft tried a four-day work week in Japan and productivity—measured by sales per employee—went up by almost 40%! Other than cutting working hours, managers also urged staff to cut down on the time they spent in meetings and responding to emails. Sounds like heaven! (Business Insider)

Bye bye M.Phil degree: The government’s new education policy plans to phase out the advanced post-graduate degree that often served as a stepping stone to getting a PhD. Now, students will be able to do a 3-4 year undergraduate degree (with many confusing variations). One such option: students will be able to opt for a four-year Bachelor’s program—with a research component—that will make them eligible to apply for a PhD right after. (Mint)

A ‘brain reading’ headband for tiger moms: A US-based startup has created the Focus1, or Fu Si, headband that measures how closely students are paying attention. It uses electrodes to detect electrical activity in a child’s brain and sends the data to teachers’ computers or to a mobile app. It is so creepy even parents in China—where it is being marketed—are saying, umm, no! (Quartz)

Your daily quota of sunshine stories: includes the following:

  • Women sharing #MyGynaecStory on Twitter. 

  • The quintessential man as per Wikipedia is best illustrated by... a Mallu! As the entry notes, this article has multiple issues. (Advance apologies to all Mallu men)

  • Virat Kohli’s birthday letter to his 15-year-old self.

  • Longtime bachelor Keanu Reeves has a girlfriend—here’s everything you need to know about her.

  • The dancing uncle of Lebanon—flaunting his skillz at a protest march!

  • This mother losing it when her baby laughs for the first time. It made us laugh-cry a bit, as well. 

  • The amazing varieties of chilis found just in the North East.

  • This wonderful clip of a dog imitating his photos. Yes, it’s just as silly and funny as it sounds.

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Everything we don't know about human desire

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That sex is seriously unreal!

Hollywood has long destroyed the self esteem of humans around the world thanks to its outlandish depictions of hot sex. Women talk about the ways movies raised expectations and triggered performance issues—with humour and insight.

Read: Sex On Screen Is Such An Anticlimax For Women | Refinery29

Sex, Love etc 2

A woman by any other surname…

It is one of the most divisive questions even among women friends: should you or should you not take your husband’s name? And it can create a rift between the happiest couples. This first person essay by a writer facing this difficult choice is honest and thoughtful—without the moralising that usually accompanies this subject.

Read: The Name Change Dilemma | Longreads

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