The truth is (sigh) out there

This story in the Financial Express made me wonder a bit about Dilip's post on truth and lies in the Indian blogging world, and also made me wonder, not for the first time, whether the journalist who wrote the story has information that none of us do.
She mentions "flogs" or fake blogs: "Even as fake blogs or flogs are increasing in number, including a recent one on tennis sensation Sania Mirza, celebrities tend to popularise blogging." Now this is a disturbing trend if it's actually happening--Dilip, is this what you meant when you referred to blogs that tell lies? Just curious--but the only mainstream "fake blog" I've heard about so far is the Sania Mirza one, where some idiot was pretending to be Ms Mirza and posting lurid comments in her name. That's one "flog"; are there others?
The second point she makes is an apparently random quote from a lawyer:
"Cyber lawyer Pavan Duggal says 'blogs are increasingly being misused in India as the Indian cyber law does not touch upon blogging.'"
This sounds to me as though Indian cyberlaw might at some stage try and introduce rules/ guidelines for bloggers, which should be interesting, given the way cyberlaws have been framed in India!
All of us have come across blogs that are mean, vicious, downright incompetent or untruthful, but I used to assume these were in the minority: am I wrong? Has the trend changed? None of the bloggers I read on a regular basis seem to "misuse" their blogs, and none of the influential bloggers, the ones on the Top 100 list who get linked to a lot, seem to be especially problematic.
So I'm confused. Am I missing out on the general viciousness and lies out there in the blogosphere, and if so, why didn't I get my invite? Or is this sort of reporting just the beginning of "bad blogs" stories in the same way we used to have "cyberspace is evil" stories?

Truth in blogging

Cross-posting from my blog, largely because the issue originated on Indi³

I've been debating "truth in blogging" with Dilip D'Souza (largely on email) after his piece on Indicubed, and going back to an older post of his where he said:
Blogs allow you to bypass editors and publish, putting the power of publishing directly in the hands of the writer. That's often a great boon. Yet consider: a good editor would have stopped conjecture where it should have been stopped. Before being published.
We may decide to put up our respective thoughts on the matter on our blogs, but in the meanwhile, this statement by Richard Posner caught my eye.
Inaccuracies in blogs are less pernicious than inaccuracies in the mainstream media even apart from the superior opportunity for prompt correction of bloggers' errors. The reason is that bloggers are known not to employ fact checkers or editors; there is no pretense that they have the resources to eliminate all errors in their postings. The mainstream media, in contrast, represent to their public that they endeavor assiduously to prevent errors from finding their way into articles and broadcasts. They ask the public to repose trust in them. Bloggers do not. That is why serious errors by the mainstream media are played as scandals; they are not merely mistakes--they are breaches of trust.
Link Courtesy: Ashish's Niti.

Ends, not the means

Simple questions that I'm sure all here have grappled with before. What happens when bloggers post lies, whether knowingly or not? What happens when they post rumours, whether knowingly or not? What happens when they post unsubstantiated assumptions, whether knowingly or not? What happens when they call others names?

(Those questions, in a self-perceived descending order of severity).

I ask because in my months doing this blogging thing, I've seen all those things happen, and I'm sure you have. In some cases, I've tried to point them out to the person concerned. In some of those cases, the person concerned has taken no action. (I've also, it must be said, done some of this myself and had it pointed out to me; I believe I've tried to make amends).

Faced with stuff like this, what is a famously self-correcting, checked and balanced, blogosphere to do? Some of those who generate lies or mong rumours -- and not just among bloggers -- remain popular and respected commenters nevertheless, so clearly they don't give much of a damn for being correct, being corrected, or making corrections. (It also must be said, though, that many do give such a damn). Clearly that self-correcting mechanism isn't doing all that it must.

Reminds me of Harshad Mehta, whose underhanded doings in the stock scam eventually mattered very little: partly because he never paid for his misdeeds, but also because he became a greatly respected columnist on matters financial. Reminds me of the Lalus and Modis, who frequently point to their electoral triumphs as the real proof of their innocence of the accusations against them. Reminds me of Pavan Varma, who in his book Being Indian: The Truth about why the 21st Century will be India's, writes of the "moral relativism" of us Indians, of how our "understanding of right and wrong is far more related to efficacy than to absolutist notions of morality." (Aside: you need to read the book to understand why these are not the usual hand-wringing lamentations about India).

In other words, if I've got where I want to get (or am getting there), the hell with the ethics. Nobody really gives a damn anyway, and people are still flocking to listen to me, so why should I correct myself?

So much for self-correcting mechanisms. Right?

Indian Government offers Accreditation to Bloggers

I'm re-posting something i wrote at my blog, as i feel it is an issue that can affect all bloggers :

The Times of India reports that the Government opens doors to bloggers.

"NEW DELHI: If you are a serious blogger, the Indian government may just open its doors to you. India is in the process of framing rules for granting accreditation to Internet journalists and bloggers for the first time, taking a reality check on an evolving world of net writers who could shape opinion and who have already been granted access to official corridors in countries such as the US. "We are framing the rules for giving accreditation to dotcom journalists, including bloggers," Principle Information Officer Shakuntala Mahawal said."

"We are looking at various models in other countries and studying rules broadly put in place by organisations like the UN, sports outfits and commonwealth countries," said a senior official of the information and broadcasting ministry. "The idea is to sequester the genuine from the fraud and acknowledge those who really want to make a difference. They will be given facilities and better access through accreditation." Online posts are widely read and according to surveys some 44 per cent of America's young people read blogs. Most readers look at blogs for news, perspective and honesty that they cannot perhaps find in standard news media. According to Indian officials, blogs are becoming a political statement in many other countries - such as in the US and British elections - and India needs to prepare for such a situation. "

This is so interesting. Am not sure what to think of it though. Found this graphic via Return of the Warblog - thought it was funny.

A picture named credentials.gif

On the one hand i am happy that bloggers are being taken seriously, on the other, many questions and some fear running through my mind ....

Do bloggers want this accredition by the government? Do they need it? What benefits? At what cost? Will we lose our freedom of speech? Is this license or protection or regulation of sorts? Will they become mouthpieces for the Government? Will it create competition among Indian Bloggers, in a mad rush for press passes, where camaraderie and collaboration exists today?

What do you feel?

On comments, and blogs

Should a blog have comments enabled? Hyperlinks? What are blogs anyway? I put up a post on my personal blog a short while ago carrying forward a discussion on this issue, but as I don't have comments enabled, I thought I'd post it here, a forum meant for discussing just such things. So here goes:

Patrix, Dina and Charu have all put up posts recently that argue for the enabling of comments in posts, and have taken friendly aim at me for not doing so. I had stated my reasons in an earlier post (“No comments”), but it would be unfair of me not to respond to some of the points they raise. So here goes.

One, Dina does me an injustice when she says that I “have not really recognised the magic in conversations”. I understand that magic, and I crave to be able to have some of it on this blog. Indeed, in a piece I’d written for the Indian Express in January (“Blogs – The New Journalism”), I had described such conversations as being “often intelligent, informative and enlightening, with the readers adding enormous value to what the blogger has to say”.

Why then do I not have comments enabled? The reasons I had given here hold. Once your traffic goes beyond a certain point, the number of loonies who abuse you go up beyond what you can reasonably take, and that affects me and my peace of mind. Some bloggers might be mentally tough enough to say, “I will ignore it, it reflects on the person leaving the comment more than on me.” But I find it hard to do so, and refuse to have my pages sullied by boorish abuse.

It is not as if I alone have this problem. All high-traffic blogs do, and it is no surprise that most of the biggies in the blogosphere – like Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, Boing Boing and Kausfiles – do not have comments enabled. My traffic is nowhere near these guys, but it’s still beyond the point when the crap is tolerable. Gaurav Sabnis, whose blog is among the more popular Indian ones, shut down his comments recently as well, and told me last weekend how relaxed he felt after having done so. I actually noticed the conversations on his blog go from being intelligent and thought-provoking to abusive and ranty (to improvise a verb), and I understood exactly how he felt.

Now, there have been some comments made about how blogs should have comments enabled, and can’t be called “blogs” if they are not. I find those arguments ludicrous. The blogosphere is not a socialist or a statist space where a central politburo will decide on what is a blog and what isn’t, and everyone must conform. It runs, as I articulated in my post, “The libertarian internet”, like a perfectly functioning free market. Instapundit and Boing Boing are perhaps the most popular blogs on the net, and therefore the ones that bring value to the most readers – and they don’t have comments.

They have been validated by the hundreds of thousands of readers who visit them every day, and by the tens and thousands of fellow bloggers who refer to them as blogs. In other words, it falls not unto individuals to define blogs, but for the blogosphere to do so, collectively, with mouseclicks and blogrolls. And the blogosphere has spoken: comments not necessary.

While I’m on the subject, let me speak about another feature that I don’t consider necessary: hyperlinks. Now, I link to other sites and blogs more voraciously and frequently than most Indian bloggers, but I don’t view them as a mandatory requirement for blogs. (Yes, I know “blogs” began as “weblogs”, but they evolved and so did the nomenclature.) I say that because journalists, while reporting on their blogs, often don’t have the time, or the need, to place links. The most satisfying blogging I have done came when I was on the move and reporting events as they happened; first, in the aftermath of the tsunami, in Tamil Nadu (those posts archived here); second, while covering the India-Pakistan cricket series for the Guardian. In both cases, as I’ve explained here, my blogging gave a new dimension to my reporting. (Some big bloggers agreed.) There were hardly any links in those posts.

So what, in my opinion, defines a blog? Two things:

One, dated posts.

Two, the distinctive voice of a writer – or group, in case of groupblogs – speaking directly to the reader without the artifice involved in writing for a magazine or newspaper.

But that’s just my opinion, and I refuse to insist that others should feel the same way.
Independent, Individual, Indian.

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