The Internet isn't a dump truck, it's a series of tubes. And many a reputation has gone swirling down those tubes, thanks to the Net's ability to expose scoundrels, scalawags, liars, cheats, and fools - and then broadcast the scandal to a billion glowing screens.
The PC World list of the Top 10 Internet Scandals of All Time includes, the Paris Hilton (and company) sex videos, internet giants sucking up to the Chinese censorship regime and the cigar-powered Monica-gate.
If we were to compile a desi version of the list, how many would make it to the list? With the limited internet penetration in the country, very few scandals exposed online would've had any widespread implications. Censorship is scandalous for a free democracy and therefore finds mention below.
Here are my takes (in no particular order):
1. The IIPM exposé (and the following battle with the bloggers)
It all began with JAM publishing (what most aware Indians were already aware of) a rebuttal of IIPM's tall claims, and then Gaurav Sabnis doing his bit and giving up his job in the process, followed by the Indian blogging community pitching in (there were some multi-million rupee legal notices in between).
2. Operation West End
The big baap of Indian sting journalism (it was quite sometime later that the Shakti Kapoor saga took the genre down the abyss). Tehelka.com entered the conscience of the Indian public with greedy politicians, middle men and senior Army officials, caught on tape (by Aniruddha Bahal and Mathew Samuel) selling national security for the greens.
Then the witch-hunt began.
The editor of Tehelka.com complained of efforts by the prime minister’s office to discredit the site, accusing it being in the pay of Pakistani intelligence and organised crime. The journalists who broke the scandal were physically threatened and had to be given heavy police protection ... For two years, the staff had been harassed and arrested, and had shrunk from 120 to three, and the site’s debts had mounted.
[A transcript of the tapes is available here]
3. DPS MMS
There would be hardly any Indian porn-addict (and numerous non-addicts too) who haven't seen the clip involving two underage teens. The incident brought to light the menace that camera phones have become and reality-porn emerging as big business online and off it. A student posted a CD of the clip for sale on Bazee.com and its unsuspecting CEO Avnish Bajaj landed behind bars in the process.
4. The Blog block
One Friday night this blog wasn't accessible through my ISP, but things seemed fine when accessed via an anonymiser. Others also had similar experiences. And then the Big Indian Blog Block dawned upon us, with associated stupidity on the part of the administration. To block a few 'erring' blogs, ISPs restricted access to entire domains, especially Blogspot and WordPress. With previous experience of fighting it out from the IIPM Wars (see #2 above), the bloggers won but not before the international media drew comparisons between the India and its restrictive northern neighbour - China. Meanwhile Indian internet users learnt an important lesson, in using circumvention technologies and websites.
In September 2003 Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) in its first censorship action passed orders to block a Yahoo! group, 'Kyunhun,' for being linked to the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council, a Meghalaya based militant outfit. Like it happened three years later during the Blog Block (see #4 above), ISPs ended up making all forums on Yahoo! Groups inaccessible.
6. Gandhi parody
A 29-year old professional comedian, clown, and yoga teacher, attempted a spoof on the Father of the Nation and posted the video online (on YouTube) titled "Time to get sexy." Some news channel noticed it a month later and the hullabaloo began. Others took the cue and ran the video on prime time television. The Indian Government and many Indians took offence. A show cause notice was issued to IBN 7 and Sahara by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and they subsequently apologised.
Gautham Prasad, the man at the centre of the controversy, defended himself thus
"I made this video and posted it on the internet as a marketing tool for my business as a performer... If you look closely, you can see that I am wearing a clown nose. Why is this? I do this because I am not playing Mahatma Gandhi, I am playing a CHARACTER who is playing Gandhiji. I am playing a fool who thinks it would be a good idea to dress up like Gandhi and do this dance. In reality, I'm making fun of myself. I realize this distinction may be difficult to understand, but as a performer it is crucial..."They I&B Ministry contemplated action against YouTube, but the video still remains up there with 85,662 views on the last count. Many channels, newspapers and websites confused this video with a much older one titled "Gandhi 2," where a character dressed up as the Mahatma goes all guns blazing, typical Bollywood ishtyle. And there are many more out there, proving the point that even after half-a-century of his death, Gandhi sells. The Congress banks on him, Bollywood uses him, his descendants write about him and even Narendra Modi and Uma Bharati seek his succour. We may not trod on his path, but someone dare say anything against him...
[The videos may offend some sensibilities. User discretion is advised]
(Please help lengthen the list)