India shuts down Internet in hotspot after deadly protests

The Citizenship Amendment Bill allows for the fast-tracking of applications from religious minorities from three neighboring countries. (File/AFP)
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Updated 13 December 2019

India shuts down Internet in hotspot after deadly protests

  • Protests erupted this week after the government introduced new legislation that many in the far-flung northeast believe will give citizenship to immigrants
  • On Friday morning thousands gathered in central Guwahati as riot police looked on

GUWAHATI: Internet access was cut in India’s northeastern city of Guwahati on Friday as thousands gathered for fresh protests against a new citizenship law, a day after police shot dead two demonstrators.
Protests erupted this week after the government introduced new legislation that many in the far-flung northeast believe will give citizenship to immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and which other critics say is anti-Muslim.
On Friday morning thousands gathered in central Guwahati as riot police looked on, with residents hurrying out to buy essentials.
No fresh violence was reported but Guwahati and other areas remained littered from the detritus of recent days, with some roads blocked by fallen trees, concrete poles, stones and iron railings. Many cash machines have run out of cash and most petrol stations were also shut.
A local government official said that Internet access in the Guwahati, the main city of Assam state, had been cut and an AFP reporter confirmed that connections appeared to have been suspended.
The Meghalaya state government has also cut off mobile Internet, with parts of the capital Shillong brought under curfew since Thursday evening.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was planning to scrap a visit to the city due to begin on Sunday as the security situation deteriorated, media reported Friday. The Japanese leader had been slated to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Thursday, police had fired live and blank rounds as thousands of demonstrators in Guwahati and elsewhere took to the streets, some vandalising property and torching vehicles.
The two demonstrators killed in the city were among around 20 people being treated in hospital, “a few” of whom had gunshot wounds, said Ramen Talukdar, a doctor at a Guwahati hospital.
Hundreds of passengers stuck at Guwahati airport were brought to the city on government buses with police escort in the early hours of Friday morning.
Several thousand troops have been drafted in to help police, who fired tear gas and charged demonstrators with batons, in recent days.
Security was increased at the Bangladeshi consulate in Guwahati after a vehicle in the consul’s convoy was attacked Wednesday by mobs, the foreign ministry in Dhaka said.
“They cant settle anyone in our motherland. This is unacceptable. We will die but not allow outsiders to settle here,” Manav Das, a protester told AFP on Friday.
“We will defeat the government with the force of the people and the government will be forced to revoke the law,” said local activist Samujal Battacharya.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), signed into law by the Indian president late Thursday, allows for the fast-tracking of applications from religious minorities from three neighboring countries, but not Muslims.
For Islamic groups, the opposition and rights groups, it is part of Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims. He denies this.
The US State Department on Thursday urged India to “protect the rights of its religious minorities,” according to Bloomberg.
But many in India’s northeast object for different reasons, fearing that immigrants from Bangladesh — many of them Hindus — will become citizens, taking jobs and weakening the local culture.
The chief ministers of the states of Punjab in the north and Kerala in the south also said that they would not implement the law, the Hindu daily reported.
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YouTube steers viewers to climate denial videos: nonprofit

Updated 16 January 2020

YouTube steers viewers to climate denial videos: nonprofit

  • Avaaz said it scrutinized results of YouTube searches using the terms “global warming,” “climate change,” and “climate manipulation” to see what was offered by an “up next” feature
  • 16 percent of the top 100 videos served up in relation to the term “global warming” contained misinformation, it said

SAN FRANCISCO: YouTube has driven millions of viewers to climate denial videos, a US activist group said Thursday as it called for stopping “free promotion of misinformation” at the platform.
New York-based Avaaz said it scrutinized results of Google-owned YouTube searches using the terms “global warming,” “climate change,” and “climate manipulation” to see what was offered by an “up next” feature and as suggestions.
In response to the report, YouTube said it downplays “borderline” video content while spotlighting authoritative sources and displaying information boxes on searches related to climate change and other topics.
The video sharing platform has remained firm that while it removes content violating its policies against hate, violence and scams, it does not censor ideas expressed in accordance with its rules.
“Our recommendations systems are not designed to filter or demote videos or channels based on specific perspectives,” YouTube said in response to an AFP inquiry.
The company added that it has “significantly invested in reducing recommendations of borderline content and harmful misinformation, and raising up authoritative voices.”
According to Avaaz, 16 percent of the top 100 videos served up in relation to the term “global warming” contained misinformation, with the top 10 of those averaging more than a million views each.
The portion of potentially misleading videos climbed to 21 percent for YouTube searches on the term “climate manipulation” but fell to eight percent for searches using the term “climate change,” according to Avaaz.
“This is not about free speech, this is about the free advertising,” Avaaz senior campaigner Julie Deruy said in a release.
“YouTube is giving factually inaccurate videos that risk confusing people about one of the biggest crises of our time.”
An AFP search at YouTube using the term “global warming” yielded a results page topped by a box containing a Wikipedia summary of the subject and a link to the page at the online encyclopedia.
A list of suggested videos on the topic was dominated by sources such as National Geographic, NASA, TED and major news organizations including CBS, PBS, Sky News, and AFP.
Last year, consumption on “channels” of authoritative news publishers at the platform grew by 60 percent, according to YouTube.
“We prioritize authoritative voices for millions of news and information queries, and surface information panels on topics prone to misinformation — including climate change — to provide users with context alongside their content,” YouTube said.
Avaaz called on YouTube to yank climate change misinformation videos from its recommendation formula completely, and make certain such content doesn’t make money from ads at the platform.
The nonprofit also wants YouTube to collaborate with fact-checkers and post correction notices on videos with false climate change information.
YouTube automatically placed ads on some of the videos containing misinformation regarding climate change, making money for the service and the content creators, according to Avaaz.
This could apply to news videos expressing rival sides of the climate change debate. YouTube works with advertisers and provides tools to opt-out of having their ads displayed with certain types of content, such as climate change discourse.
Avaaz said after seeing the YouTube response that the company’s rankings lacked transparency and “put a blackbox around their algorithm preventing researchers and investigators from seeing exactly what is happening inside.”
“The bottom line is that YouTube should not feature, suggest, promote, advertise or lead users to misinformation,” Deruy said.