Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Well it started off quite nicely too... I was asked to write up something on the "freedom of expression" side of the debate on banning SMS/Insta polls. And I did. And true to type I didn't believe a word of what I said :D Anybody with half a brain could pick a million holes in my ~500 word article :D

I'd rather have written the other side of the article. I'd have concluded that banning wasn't the way because banning simply isn't the way and put up a strong argument for restrictive controls and cumbersome disclaimers on SMS/Insta polls. But hey! I wasn't going to give up my first shot at getting my voice heard in a reasonably famous newspaper :D

And though I should've expected it, that of course is retrospect... my rant was mangled almost beyond recognition, terms reinvented and deleted and added, grammar and spellings messed up, the argumentative tone(ok ok :D that's how I hope it sounds) impotent-ised and the slightly scientific tone totally erased! Ok... so it wasn't that bad... but it was bad never the less.

The article in the Pioneer

OK... there seems to be a problem with the direct link to the article. So one needs to go to the bottom of this page and click "Edits" on the "Today's Stories" section and then go to the "No case for Ban on SMS Polls" article... finally.... :D... whoever said the first step to opinion leadership is easy?

My Original Rant.

Nirmal TS Kumar,

Whatever the apology for a ban it can never be strong enough to override
the preponderance of as simple a concept as freedom of expression. Freedom
of expression of both the audience and the media.

Firstly SMS/Internet polls are not used to elect premiers of countries or
create theories of the universe. They're primarily used to know whether the
saas needs to be bumped off or the bahu be sent to a mental institution.
Neither the marketer nor audience make earth shattering decisions with the
help of these polls. The prime excuse against polls is that they're not
representative and the respondents are self-selecting. Why may I ask do
they need to be representative or non-self-selecting in the first place?
From an audience's or the marketer's or even from the statistician's
perspective, there is simply no need to be representative. The people who
respond to these polls maybe skewed by their tech-savviness or their
predisposition toward wanting to involve themselves in what they are an
audience to. Yes, but opinion-wise they're as good as any carefully
selected sample. And yet they have no need to be representative as, well,
the poll simply makes no promise to.

Another argument is that the options are very restrictive. All
statisticians worth their salt will tell you about their struggle with
marketers to reduce the number of options. Sure more options mean more
information for a marketer but more options immediately open up the sample
to bias and also increases the marketer's ability to introduce "leading"
options. Faced with a poll, people almost never take an "agree strongly" or
"disagree strongly" option. It is almost always one of the middle options.
The results do not adequately reflect the respondents' opinion. The lesser
the options the better and two is the ideal number with "can't say/don't
know" a necessary auxiliary.

Lets be frank, the polls are a marketer's tool to make the audience feel
involved with the media. In their single dimensional world where they
disseminate information with no idea where it goes or how it is received,
marketers are desperate for any feedback. They know that a feedback loop is
a powerful tool to pull in an audience and retain them but even internet
based media doesn't have effective feedback loops. So marketers do the next
best thing, a semblance of a feedback loop that doesn't give them audience
information but nevertheless makes the audience feel involved.

Let's remember that there are no victims here. Any argument that supports
the banning of such polls can also be used to ban suffrage, advertising,
non-state controlled media and any form of free expression. Any argument
that supports a ban essentially presupposes that an audience needs to be
"protected" from evil polls from which they lack the capability to protect
themselves from. Considering, especially, the audience of today which is
exposed to media that carries such polls, that is certainly not so. There
simply is no place for such a ban.

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