Internet both dangerous and democratic: Nobel laureates

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New Delhi | Published: January 6, 2016 10:08:09 PM

The Noble laureates today opined that the "rule of the mob" finds a quick expression in today's times due to social media, while stating that internet provided a platform that was "both dangerous and democratic".

The Noble laureates today opined that the “rule of the mob” finds a quick expression in today’s times due to social media, while stating that internet provided a platform that was “both dangerous and democratic”.

“Mobs existed before internet but now mob rule can express much more quickly because of social media. To me that is a danger. Crowds though have their own momentum,” Nobel laureate V Ramakrishnan, who received a Nobel for Chemistry in 2009 said at an event here.

The India-born biologist was in conversation with fellow Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, David Trimble and Arthur MacDonald who debated whether the internet was both democratic and dangerous at ‘Nobel Solutions’, an event organised by NDTV and Tata Consultancy Services.

Talking about the role of state curbs on internet, Ramakrishnan said, “The Internet helps all kinds of crackpots like trolls, terrorists coming together, propagating dangerous and anti-social behaviour and then governments have had to clamp down on the flow of Internet and censorship and privacy.”

Amartya Sen pointed out that every government also wants to win the next election and so there was a certain amount of cynicism that comes in as to what kind of conversation or communication it wants to encourage.

“This conversation to some extent to me is the distinction between the state and the government. It’s not so much of the government’s responsibility as it is a state responsibility which includes other institutions like judiciary, law, you and me to participate in public debate and discussions,” he said.

He went on to add that when we are talking about freedom of speech on the internet, there is going to be a tension on part of the government who would want to continue in office and at the same time do not want to appear as unfair.

Ramakrishnan maintained that the debate around restrictions on internet services was a “tricky balance for governments” because if they went down the road of completely clamping down the internet, the danger could be that the establishments could become more authoritarian and totalitarian.

“How do you balance the needs of society to prevent the dangerous elements of carrying out anti-social actions with a rule of law where the government can not arbitrarily exercise power? Similarly a totalitarian state can use the power of the internet to clamp down on any dissenting opinion,” he said.

He also noted that people need to figure out trusted sources in the wake of explosion of information on the Internet.

On the vexed issues of Free Basics and Net Neutrality, Nobel laureate David Trimble said, “I think that it is important that there is access to internet. The primary reason to do this is that it concerns with the economy, the service provider comes later.”

Trimble who was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 added, “If anyone could workout where Internet would be in next few years, they will make a fortune.”

Sen was quick to note that the internet in some ways had hardened the already existing division between the literate and illiterates in the country.

For Arthur McDonald, the technical aspects of the internet in the future would be enormous.

“The data revolution is the next thing that internet is going to bring to us,” he said.

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