The internet, that turns 50 on October 29, brought access to information for millions of people in Bangladesh, as it did in other countries. With the internet we have reshaped the ways of communication, entertainment, and doing business.
The internet is being used for communication and business even at the rural level, and has been directly contributing to our productivity.
But with all good things come bad things as well. This is where the government and the telecom regulator of the country have to step in.
For our government, the number one villain of the internet is porn, which, it thinks, is destroying society.
There is abundant pornography on the internet, and till date, the bulk share of web content is taken up by porn and related material. The government is concerned that young people, having exposure to porn sites, are becoming perverts and criminals. The government thinks that porn is killing Bangladesh.
Thus the government banned access to some 20,000 porn websites. Very prompt, extremely good – we have become morally clean and sacred!
What about young people becoming addicted to online games like PUBG (Player Unknown's Battleground)? The government is concerned again. Shut them down too!
Gambling sites! Oh, we have banned those as well! No more addiction.
After banning 22,000 websites, which include Reddit – a popular social news aggregator website, Bangladesh should have a clean, addiction-free, morally rebooted population. Yeah, right!
But what about banning the 'real' bad things? The bad things that have reshaped our politics and society, triggered hatred and violence, and jacked up despicable communal attitudes in society?
I am putting Facebook on the dock. Facebook has been the biggest platform of spreading fake news and hatred which, on many occasions, has led to communal violence, murders and deep political divide in our country.
This allegation against Facebook is shared, widely. Around the world and in the USA, Facebook has been accused of being used as a platform for fake news and a tool for political manipulation.
You may feel happy to find a "free" platform to post your selfies and things that you like on Facebook, but for this site you are a mere commodity. Your information is being sold to different interest groups. Some collect your information to sell you their products. Others use your information to feed you fake or manipulated information to influence your opinions.
It is no wonder that Facebook has been fined a record-breaking $5 billion as part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission of the USA for violating consumer privacy rights.
Let us look at what Facebook did in Bangladesh.
In 2012, in the backdrop of the trial of war criminals – where a large number of leaders of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party were being tried for crimes against humanity during the 1971 war – a sudden outbreak of communal violence on Buddhists in Ramu Upazila in Cox's Bazar shocked the nation.
Mobs in Ramu destroyed a dozen Buddist temples and 50 houses after accusing a Buddist person of denigrating the Quran in a Facebook post. Soon it was found that the Facebook post was fake.
In early 2013, supporters of war criminals and Islamists posted a lot of fake, misleading, and hate-inducing material on Facebook targeting the government and secularists. Over 50 people, mostly secularists, were killed in a violent and murderous spree in the first three months.
At that time, the government suspended access to Facebook for a few days and subsequently withdrew the suspension.
Using this social media platform, a hate-inducing page like Basherkella, a front of Islami Chhatra Shibir, posted a photo of war criminal and Jamaat leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee's face on the moon. They claimed that his face was seen on the moon as a sign of injustice being done on such an Islamic scholar. This resulted in violence and killing once again.
The list goes on. Only a few weeks ago we saw the killing of brilliant Buet student Abrar for expressing an opinion that was deemed 'anti-government' by pro-government Chhatra League hooligans.
The latest is the violence in Bhola in which four people died over yet another fake Facebook post claiming that a Hindu person had insulted the Prophet.
Alongside acting as a platform for socio-political villains, Facebook also milks out huge advertisement revenue from Bangladesh without paying the government any tax. The most concerning thing of all is that this platform is not accountable to the Bangladesh government.
Facebook still hosts Basherkella. It is more harmful than all the 20,000 porn sites combined.
Last year alone, Facebook took away Tk1,000 crore, which is more than the advertisement revenue collected by all the newspapers of the country combined.
The media of the country pays the relevant tax to the government. But Facebook suggested that the government should form a Vat collection body that would collect tax from advertisers who want to put up an ad on Facebook. But Facebook will not pay any taxes. What a business model! I wish we could enjoy such facilities too.
If the government wants to make sure that the internet is in good hands, then it should bring Facebook or similar platforms under a legal framework.
Porn has never been the main problem. People who enjoy porn and know the internet can still access the sites. One can access anything using a VPN.
There is porn on Facebook. On Twitter. Everywhere! Banning sites after sites is not the solution. Accountability is! We should think of introducing legal restrictions that other countries have used to penalise IT giants for violating rules.
If you think you cannot control the internet, then go on, ban it entirely. We lived long before the internet came into being, so we will continue to live without it as well. We will only have to sacrifice our productivity, communication system, entertainment, and access to good useful information that were sourced through the internet.