Introspection : Pornistan

The pundits are saying that internet spells doom for newspapers and journalism as we know it. As news is available freely over the internet, less and less number of people are really interested in shelling out money for subscribing to the printed material. All sorts of blogs are coming up which use online materials, mailed in videos/pics from mobiles to report on a story in real time thus making newspapers obsolete.

For newspapers to survive, they have to change their model. They cannot rely on press releases and Associated Press reports. They need to add value. This is where investigative journalism comes in, something that is almost dead in Pakistani newspapers. This is where the online blogs and associate presses of the world cannot compete. The journalists have to roll up their sleeves and find out about issues and turn in reports that actually raise lids off simmering issues and help in highlighting problems.

The blogs and news aggregators do not make efforts to verify the news. They pick up any tidbit or rumor and report it world over (with a disclaimer if they like). If it is controversial, it becomes viral in 24 hours. In the race to be the first to give their two cents, everyone through their blogs, tweets, sms, facebook status updates helps in spreading the rumored news item.

This is what happened with the most recent story about porn fetish in Pakistan. Fox News published a malicious report on Pakistan, The News (part of Jang Publications) reported it verbatim and pretty soon the Pakistan websphere was wild with it everyone emailing each other, posting the news on their facebook page, blogging about it and tweeting it to each other. If Google counted how many times the porn fetish words were repeated, typed in, emailed to each other by Pakistanis, it would have multiplied the already misreported statistic turning it into a self fulfilling prophecy (but thats not how Google works).

What amazed me was that without verifying the underlying numbers which is quite easy to do, everyone had blogged, tweeted and updated the status about it. Just imagine the visitors it would bring to my blog site if I pepper my post with the search titles in that report.

As usual,  introspection was the name of the game with everyone in Pakistan (bloggers, columnists and editors) attributing such sick fetishes to repression of sex in everyday life, religious mores that enforce segregation of sexes and conservative values.

Had anyone done a teeny weeny bit of research, they would have found out that the report did not represent a true picture. Below I reproduce in comments by Indian scholar Namit Arora on the report which shows that the research methodology was flawed.

Ok, let’s say that I decided to study the frequency of keyword searches as a scholar might, and then see what conclusions are warranted from it. I will need to do at least the following:

1. First, I’ll need to normalize the searches across languages, across equivalent terms used in, say, Russian, Italian, Serbian, etc.

2. Then I’ll need to normalize across the demographics of Internet users. If males dominate Internet use in a country, might they be skewing their country’s per capita occurrence of certain search terms? In Pakistan, males outnumber females by more than 3:1 for regular use and 7:1 for occasional use of the Internet.

3. Then I’ll need to normalize for how integrated the Internet is in a culture’s way of life – do people widely turn to it to look up kebab joints, street maps, movies, sports, and banking, or is it still early days – not enough local info online yet and people prefer newspapers, radio, TV, and word-of-mouth, perhaps it’s still a relatively novel and foreign import, with porn being much more of a “killer app” at this stage.

And so on. Then I might begin to have some apples-to-apples data. Making sense of it and drawing reliable conclusions about, say, sexual repression will be my next challenge.

FOX looked up some keywords on Google Trends. So I did the same and found these interesting tidbits:

1. On searches for “horse sex” worldwide, Finland ranks 4, Australia 6, Denmark 8, US 9, Canada 10.

2. On “violent rape”, Belgium is 3, Australia 4, Canada 6, UK 7, US 8, France 9, Italy 10.

3. On “dog sex”, Australia is 5, US 6, Canada 7, Finland 8, UK 9, Hungary 10.

4. On “sheep sex”, Ireland is 1, New Zealand 2, Australia 3, UK 4, US 5, Canada 6.

5. On “child rape”, US is 7, New Zealand 8, Australia 9, Canada 10.

6. On “child porn”, New Zealand is 3, Australia 6, Canada 7, Norway 8, US 10.

7. On “pregnant rape”, UK is 2, US 3, Canada 4, Germany 5.

Note that these are English search terms, so non-English speaking countries (at least on the Internet), are less likely to show. Pakistanis on the Internet use English (despite limited average proficiency and vocabulary); it’s more surprising to see the French and Italians searching for “violent rape”.

The search for “camel sex” understandably brings in Israel, UAE and Saudi Arabia in the top 10, but also Portugal and Switzerland. People in the Alps dreaming of humping camels? Go figure!

One can make a lot of logical arguments against banning of Facebook or other website but using some cooked up statistics to do it was the most criminal thing for FoxNews to do.

What was more absurd is that English speaking/writing elite in Pakistan tried to find justification for the false report in whatever factor (mainly repression of sex) that struck their fancy.

Despite how disgusting one might find porn, one has to realize that porn has been at the forefront of some of internet technology development. They were the pioneers of web based payments, forced companies as well users towards server and bandwidth upgradation, improved online webstreaming etc. Part of the growth of internet is due to adult content. However, this growth was not geared towards the poor people of developing or depressed economies. These sites exist to cater to their paying customers in the West and not some backward Pakistani rural male who may not even have a bank account much less a credit card without which he could not access it.

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