What is Electronic Profiling and Why is it Bad?

It Happens Where You Live

This article is about a hidden problem that exists online. One that is perpetrated on a global scale and it relates to profiling conducted against people from the ridiculously named “third world” and specifically Indians.

Beginning from the business process outsourcing phenomenon that started in the late 90’s, Young Indians came into real and direct contact with the best and the worst that the West had to offer. There were reports of blatant racism on the phone as browbeaten 19 year old Indians were subjected to the rudest language and insults from the more "civilized first world" people.

There was, of course, an accent problem. Indians have a distinct accent and most of them who have grown up in the cities have been speaking in English from the age of 5. Their English is unique and certainly colloquial. Having studied and worked in the United States, I routinely ran into people who were surprised at my English skills. My accent was not thick so they could understand me well but if they had to deal with some techie on the phone, they let loose with their frustrations.

Now, because Indians have never made a huge deal about being subjected to blatant racism abroad, they make for soft targets. Americans especially are used to dealing with a certain kind of India – the techie. We export our nerds to work in Silicon Valley, NASA and of course as your local office computer guy. These, almost Gandhian individuals are pacifists by nature. So they will take your crap, bob their heads from side to side and move on.

Because of this, many in the West seem to think that it is OK to dish out the vile hatred against these people that they would never dare to even try against African Americans or Latinos. The recent outburst by the Jackass extraordinaire and figurehead of the American Right, Glenn Beck against India is proof of that. Making a point against elderly Americans who fly to India to get affordable healthcare, he proceeded to embark on a hateful rant that degraded the country and its people

Online Racism

But of course, broadly speaking, there are two types of racists. Those that are outspoken like Mr Beck can be safely ignored and ridiculed for the most part. But then there are those that are smarter and a lot more dangerous.

Recently there has been an incredible surge in the popularity of web forums, online article writing and marketing. Enterprising Indian companies have joined this bandwagon to take advantage of the large population of English speakers in India and the lower wage rate to provide content and marketing services to mostly Western website owners.

Then there are some independent type freelancers who have decided to go out and explore the new economy on their own. These freelancers join websites such as elance.com and try to sell their services online. But there is still a huge language divide and a regional bias that exists even in electronic media.

Not willing to admit that there are good and bad writers in every culture (and mediocre ones like yours truly), the online community has decided to routinely give Indians the cold shoulder. Usually, someone who wants to buy content will go to their local online forum and ask the advice on their mentors.

Their gurus will tell them about a bad experience that their friend’s brother in laws uncle had with this Indian writer who gave him absolute drivel and could not form a coherent sentence in English. So buying into the rumor, they let the bias sink in deep and simply proceed to make all business decisions based on the geographical location of their writers.

This results is many content providers that advertise proudly that their writers are from so called “English speaking countries”, by which they mean those countries in which people are monolingual. India is also an English speaking country (English is one of the two official languages) with multilingual people.

But even this issue can simply be boiled down to giving buyers of content the freedom to buy from whomever they please. Since I am all for individual freedoms, there is not much more I can say about this issue.

Online Exclusion

So why am I writing this article? Well, there is another problem. Because Indians have let all this jackassery slide for so long, entire online groups and forums have decided to be collectively racist. Trying to join an online marketing forum, I was told that they were not accepting members from my region.

I attribute this to the perception that a lot of spamming comes out of India (we outsource for that too). But are we all to be deemed guilty until proven innocent? In what other area of life, is an entire culture of people barred from a social group because their “kind” are known to indulge in bad behaviour? And isn’t the outsourced spamming activity, itself coming indirectly from the west?

Western companies and individuals hire Indians to spam but it is Indians who get barred and not just the spammers but the entire subcontinent. Is there a real need for that? Is it not the inherent laziness of the moderators and administrators of these groups that is the reason for the disgraceful bias?

Spammers exist in the west as well, and as soon as they spam, they are automatically banned from the particular forum. Why can’t everyone be afforded the same benefit of doubt? If anyone from anywhere indulges in anti social online behaviour, they can be barred from using that particular website. Is it not simply institutional racism then, to hold someone guilty based on their national identity?

At the time of this writing Squidoo.com does not accept new member from India.

Conclusion

So why do people do it? People who come from a long line of liberal tradition, who treat everyone fairly in real life tend to think that it is ok to be bigoted online. I believe it is simply a case of fear. Soon a substantial chunk of half the world’s population that resides in India and China will be online all at once and they will take over the internet.

What does the "first world" think will happen and why are they so afraid?? Do they think that their lives will change? Do they think we are barbarians who will run amok online and somehow come through their computer screen to rape their women and steal their money?

But of course, this culture of fear is fairly apparent in the Western media. Turn on any conservative news channel or radio show and it exists for the world to see. We are good people in the end and you interact with us on a daily basis. So why is so difficult to include us online? Or do you feel insecure on an integrated internet?

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