Open Letter to (IITB) Facebook Page Admins

By Anant Kekre, Anshul Avasthi, Rahul Maganti and Somesh Sontakke
We owe gratitude to Poorna Kumar, Chief Editor of The Fifth Estate – IIT Madras Student Media Body, for guest-editing this article.

The content on this app and on www.insightiitb.org is strictly the property of InsIghT and the Students’ Gymkhana IIT Bombay. Reproduction in any form of mass media is strictly prohibited.

Chief Editors: Anubhav Mangal, Suman Rao
Mailto: insight@iitb.ac.in

[Latest: The admins of these pages have sent us a response, link here: https://apps.facebook.com/insightiitb/?post=44444

The fad of crowdsourced Facebook pages started late February this year, with the widely popular IITB Confessions. Some lauded it for having provided an avenue for anonymous “confessors” to get things off their chest, while others simply saw it as a strong mid-sem distraction. The page refrained from naming people and exercised care to ensure that the privacy of the individuals concerned was kept under wraps.

Within a week, however, another page called IITB Compliments took birth along with its evil twin – IITB Grudges. Both pages were soon reported and sedated for having wilfully maligned many a student on campus – and it seemed to be the end of the fad.

But very recently, a revival of crowdsourced Facebook content was staged by two students, possibly sophomores, who individually created two independent pages – IIT-BLeaks and IIT Bombay Preach. While IIT-BLeaks seemed to survive on defaming institute Independent Bodies, IIT Bombay Preach functioned in a similar manner to IITB Grudges – by openly deriding batchmates in the guise of preaching to them.

Dear Admins,

This particular letter is directed towards those of you administering pages that have been merrily defaming members of the IIT Bombay Community. Whether it be leaks, preaches, compliments, grudges or proposals – there currently exist a lot of avenues where people on campus (and off it) can express their candid judgements about other individuals for all to see. The recent upsurge in the number of pages that make it possible to do so anonymously has established a status quo that is as disturbing as it is disgusting. Fittingly, you don’t have the decency to make public your own identities, ensuring that an Open Letter is the only way we can try to drill some sense into you.

The anonymity offered by the Internet is a powerful tool that can be (and has been) used to make possible a lot of great things. But, with great power come a great number of irresponsible idiots excited about abusing it.

This letter, then, seeks to reach out to those of you (admins) who have accorded your beloved posters complete anonymity and simultaneously allowed them to name and defame anyone they like. Quite often, many of you end up posting material that puts an entire foot across the thin line between well-intended fun and out-and-out animosity, with complete disregard for the privacy of the person(s) in question. We also suspect that many of you have wilfully chosen this strategy simply as the best possible route to grab eyeballs, after having realised that you might be unable to put in the time and effort required to generate quality content. However, getting into that would be opening a whole new can of worms.

It’s been hard to ignore posts maligning people and organizations on a public forum, starting with personal grudges and going on to include multitudes of remarks about their lives or activities that present them in a very poor (and probably false) light. Publicly airing such opinions – aside from being highly immature – also achieves nothing tangible. Unless, of course, you believe that letting a bunch of cowardly, spiteful miscreants provoke some of us into a disgusted rage and convince the easily disheartened among us that this Institute is fueled solely by spite and caffeine, counts as a tangible achievement. If so, kudos!

Aside from all the moral problems associated with your content, there are also the legal ramifications of defamation that you guys would be well-advised to keep in mind.

Aside from all the moral problems associated with your content, there are also the legal ramifications of defamation that you guys would be well-advised to keep in mind. While you have the right to free speech, you do not have the right to spew hate. Any attempt through speech which “disparages or intimidates a person or group” constitutes hate speech. We direct your attention to Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, which states,

“Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, to make or publish any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, shall be punished with a minimum of three years of imprisonment, or with fine or both.”

Yes, it is possible that none of the content made public was written by you. However, as admins, it is your duty to sort out the well-intentioned posts from outright defamation. Having been the primary reason why these posts are visible to us all – you guys are, ultimately, responsible for any fall-out.

The anonymity offered by the Internet is a powerful tool that can be (and has been) used to make possible a lot of great things. But, with great power come a great number of irresponsible idiots excited about abusing it. In fact, the same restraint that would be applied when handing out sledgehammers at a masquerade ball needed to be applied here. The lack of said restraint, however, can result (and has resulted) in a bloody mess. Amidst the mess, though, there are a few interesting observations regarding our institute that can be drawn from this sordid episode.

For instance, it’s now clear that there’s a tiny little sadist in many of us. While the Romans found their entertainment in the spectacle of the lion tearing the man to pieces, we get ours through deriding our fellow batchmates. It would appear that we’ve evolved; we’ve made the attack more psychological than physical, while ensuring that our experience remains as enjoyable as ever.

It has been painful to see the sheer number of women-centric posts, most of which choose to cheerily objectify women.

It has been painful to see the sheer number of women-centric posts, most of which choose to cheerily objectify women. This too comes at a time when most members of the Indian youth have been doing their very best to create awareness about the issue. For long, we’ve tried to convince ourselves that IITB has a more progressive and liberal environment than the rest of India, where there is respect and equality for every individual. But pages like these expose a different, and uglier, scenario. We appear to be no different from the rest of the world. While there appears to be nothing wrong with anonymously passing compliments, commoditizing the beauty and body of the woman in question is simply not in good taste in the kind of society that we hope to establish.

At a time when the whole world is shouting their throats hoarse for freedom and privacy and making people like Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Aaron Swartz their heroes, here we are sitting in a premier institute trying to invade the privacy of people through seemingly innocuous fun – the RG during exams. The real question is, fun for whom?

Disclaimer:- The views expressed in this open letter are reflective of the collective personal views of the authors only and do not necessarily represent that of InsIghT or the Students Gymkhana IIT-Bombay