Monday, June 17, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Digital shutdown isn’t the answer

Update : 28 Nov 2015, 06:01 PM

The thing about people you see on TV regularly is that somehow they become a member of the family. More so, someone who has “grown up” from a child to superstar. It is with that sense of elation did most of us greet the news of Tarana Halim taking over as the minister of post and telecommunications.

I don’t think many will disagree with me when I say, she is the type of minister we need - an energetic, youthful, passionate patriot who we believe will toil not only for her ministry but for the whole government and hence make the country a Bengal tiger roaring success.

I think this was the reason for the intensity of my dismay with an article she wrote recently in an English daily. In that writing, though she claims to write as “a citizen of Bangladesh,” she not only lists things she and her government are doing but goes on in detail on why the government thought it was wise to restrict few (and not all) social media and social communication sites.

And that argument is flawed. Basically the reason to ask telcos and ISPs to restrict access to some sites was “to save lives.” Matter of fact the title of her article is a dramatic “Sorry for trying to save lives.” Ms Honourable Minister, no one will want you to stop saving lives. But restricting certain sites will do that? Post the recent Paris bombing, Belgium is facing heightened security alert. They shut down their schools and the subway train network but not their communication network. West is actively engaging in a war with Daesh (also known as ISIS to the western media). That organisation uses the social media to spread hatred and recruit new members. Is the west shutting down Internet or certain sites?

You see more people die in Bangladesh due to road accidents that are avoidable than did seeing faces on the moon! So are we going to shut of our communication network till we get errant drivers off the road? Of course not, because that would have a huge impact on our everyday life and on the economy. But isn’t that what Digital Bangladesh is all about? Making the e-life an integral part of our day to day life? We can’t keep switching it on and off depending on perceived threats as much as we can’t shut the road down every time a #RickKidofDhaka takes out his dad’s new wheels!

One of the successes of Digital Bangladesh has been the number of people we have connected up to the net. I don’t think I ever go to any conference without someone mentioning the number of people we have on Facebook. We have more Bangladeshis on that site than there are Danes, Swedes, Finns or Norwegians in the world! And what do we do there? Yes we post duck faced selfies, put inane statuses, look at cute pictures of kittens and of course stalk Naila, but an e-commerce ecosystem has grown up around that site. Thousands of “f-entreprenuers” use the medium to sell things from cupcakes to T-shirts to Shelwar Kamiz to health food to various services! Companies, brand, personalities use it to connect up with fans to spread news, information, offers and even good old fashioned love.

Whatsapp and Viber have become essential business tools. My wife and her sister are first time entrepreneurs who are setting up a massive state of the art cookie factory and swears that they would not have managed to do so in record time or so efficiently if it was not for Whatsapp. I have so many business and work groups on that platform that I am now spending endless time trying to just coordinate between folks. Sigh! So much for relying on the digital platform.

The government, it seems, often don’t fully appreciate the success their endeavours have brought. The recent levying VAT on private university fees was a prime example. They failed to see how their policy made it possible for so many people from less fortunate economic circumstances to access high level of education. And in this case how Digital Bangladesh is fuelling young talent to overcome obstacles and directly access a market and make their fortune.

If we are serious about Digital Bangladesh and its success touching every facet of our lives, we need to embrace the good and the bad it brings with it. We need to understand and appreciate the ecosystem on which it thrives. And most of all we need to make sure it is up, running smoothly, and not hostage to people who don’t want Bangladesh to succeed.

You know what makes New York the greatest city in the world? After 9/11 they didn’t shut down the city and throw away the keys. They embraced their way of life even more. They encouraged people to visit and business to flourish. They proved that terrorists couldn’t scare them. That happened in London, and in Mumbai and in Madrid and will in Paris.  Honourable Minister, we need to take our seat on the world arena. We need the world to know we are a nation focused on the future and not just looking over our shoulders. 

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