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Trump Vs Twitter: Here’s The “Executive Order On Preventing Online Censorship”

The executive order challenges lawsuit protections for “unrestricted speech” on the internet.



WASHINGTON DC (United States): A day after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey slammed Donald Trump, the US President on Friday signed an executive order challenging lawsuit protections that have served as a bedrock for the unrestricted speech on the internet.

Trump said the fact checks were “editorial decisions” by Twitter amounting to political activism and that such actions should cost social media companies their liability protection for what is posted on their platforms.

Here is the complete executive order, as released by The White House:

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Policy.  Free speech is the bedrock of American democracy.  Our Founding Fathers protected this sacred right with the First Amendment to the Constitution.  The freedom to express and debate ideas is the foundation for all of our rights as a free people.

In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand pick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet.  This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic.  When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power.  They cease functioning as passive bulletin boards, and ought to be viewed and treated as content creators.

The growth of online platforms in recent years raises important questions about applying the ideals of the First Amendment to modern communications technology.  Today, many Americans follow the news, stay in touch with friends and family, and share their views on current events through social media and other online platforms.  As a result, these platforms function in many ways as a 21st century equivalent of the public square.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube wield immense, if not unprecedented, power to shape the interpretation of public events; to censor, delete, or disappear information; and to control what people see or do not see.

As President, I have made clear my commitment to free and open debate on the internet. Such debate is just as important online as it is in our universities, our town halls, and our homes.  It is essential to sustaining our democracy.

Online platforms are engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse.  Tens of thousands of Americans have reported, among other troubling behaviors, online platforms “flagging” content as inappropriate, even though it does not violate any stated terms of service; making unannounced and unexplained changes to company policies that have the effect of disfavoring certain viewpoints; and deleting content and entire accounts with no warning, no rationale, and no recourse.

Twitter now selectively decides to place a warning label on certain tweets in a manner that clearly reflects political bias.  As has been reported, Twitter seems never to have placed such a label on another politician’s tweet.  As recently as last week, Representative Adam Schiff was continuing to mislead his followers by peddling the long-disproved Russian Collusion Hoax, and Twitter did not flag those tweets.  Unsurprisingly, its officer in charge of so-called ‘Site Integrity’ has flaunted his political bias in his own tweets.

At the same time online platforms are invoking inconsistent, irrational, and groundless justifications to censor or otherwise restrict Americans’ speech here at home, several online platforms are profiting from and promoting the aggression and disinformation spread by foreign governments like China.  One United States company, for example, created a search engine for the Chinese Communist Party that would have blacklisted searches for “human rights,” hid data unfavorable to the Chinese Communist Party, and tracked users determined appropriate for surveillance.  It also established research partnerships in China that provide direct benefits to the Chinese military.  Other companies have accepted advertisements paid for by the Chinese government that spread false information about China’s mass imprisonment of religious minorities, thereby enabling these abuses of human rights.  They have also amplified China’s propaganda abroad, including by allowing Chinese government officials to use their platforms to spread misinformation regarding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to undermine pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

As a Nation, we must foster and protect diverse viewpoints in today’s digital communications environment where all Americans can and should have a voice.  We must seek transparency and accountability from online platforms, and encourage standards and tools to protect and preserve the integrity and openness of American discourse and freedom of expression.

Sec. 2.  Protections Against Online Censorship.  (a)  It is the policy of the United States to foster clear ground rules promoting free and open debate on the internet.  Prominent among the ground rules governing that debate is the immunity from liability created by section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act (section 230(c)).  47 U.S.C. 230(c).  It is the policy of the United States that the scope of that immunity should be clarified: the immunity should not extend beyond its text and purpose to provide protection for those who purport to provide users a forum for free and open speech, but in reality use their power over a vital means of communication to engage in deceptive or pretextual actions stifling free and open debate by censoring certain viewpoints.

Section 230(c) was designed to address early court decisions holding that, if an online platform restricted access to some content posted by others, it would thereby become a “publisher” of all the content posted on its site for purposes of torts such as defamation.  As the title of section 230(c) makes clear, the provision provides limited liability “protection” to a provider of an interactive computer service (such as an online platform) that engages in “‘Good Samaritan’ blocking” of harmful content.  In particular, the Congress sought to provide protections for online platforms that attempted to protect minors from harmful content and intended to ensure that such providers would not be discouraged from taking down harmful material.  The provision was also intended to further the express vision of the Congress that the internet is a “forum for a true diversity of political discourse.”  47 U.S.C. 230(a)(3).  The limited protections provided by the statute should be construed with these purposes in mind.

In particular, subparagraph (c)(2) expressly addresses protections from “civil liability” and specifies that an interactive computer service provider may not be made liable “on account of” its decision in “good faith” to restrict access to content that it considers to be “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable.”  It is the policy of the United States to ensure that, to the maximum extent permissible under the law, this provision is not distorted to provide liability protection for online platforms that — far from acting in “good faith” to remove objectionable content — instead engage in deceptive or pretextual actions (often contrary to their stated terms of service) to stifle viewpoints with which they disagree.  Section 230 was not intended to allow a handful of companies to grow into titans controlling vital avenues for our national discourse under the guise of promoting open forums for debate, and then to provide those behemoths blanket immunity when they use their power to censor content and silence viewpoints that they dislike.  When an interactive computer service provider removes or restricts access to content and its actions do not meet the criteria of subparagraph (c)(2)(A), it is engaged in editorial conduct.  It is the policy of the United States that such a provider should properly lose the limited liability shield of subparagraph (c)(2)(A) and be exposed to liability like any traditional editor and publisher that is not an online provider.

(b)  To advance the policy described in subsection (a) of this section, all executive departments and agencies should ensure that their application of section 230(c) properly reflects the narrow purpose of the section and take all appropriate actions in this regard.  In addition, within 60 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary), in consultation with the Attorney General, and acting through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), shall file a petition for rulemaking with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting that the FCC expeditiously propose regulations to clarify:

(i) the interaction between subparagraphs (c)(1) and (c)(2) of section 230, in particular to clarify and determine the circumstances under which a provider of an interactive computer service that restricts access to content in a manner not specifically protected by subparagraph (c)(2)(A) may also not be able to claim protection under subparagraph (c)(1), which merely states that a provider shall not be treated as a publisher or speaker for making third-party content available and does not address the provider’s responsibility for its own editorial decisions;

(ii)  the conditions under which an action restricting access to or availability of material is not “taken in good faith” within the meaning of subparagraph (c)(2)(A) of section 230, particularly whether actions can be “taken in good faith” if they are:

(A)  deceptive, pretextual, or inconsistent with a provider’s terms of service; or

(B)  taken after failing to provide adequate notice, reasoned explanation, or a meaningful opportunity to be heard; and

(iii)  any other proposed regulations that the NTIA concludes may be appropriate to advance the policy described in subsection (a) of this section.

Sec. 3.  Protecting Federal Taxpayer Dollars from Financing Online Platforms That Restrict Free Speech.  (a)  The head of each executive department and agency (agency) shall review its agency’s Federal spending on advertising and marketing paid to online platforms.  Such review shall include the amount of money spent, the online platforms that receive Federal dollars, and the statutory authorities available to restrict their receipt of advertising dollars.

(b)  Within 30 days of the date of this order, the head of each agency shall report its findings to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

(c)  The Department of Justice shall review the viewpoint-based speech restrictions imposed by each online platform identified in the report described in subsection (b) of this section and assess whether any online platforms are problematic vehicles for government speech due to viewpoint discrimination, deception to consumers, or other bad practices.

Sec. 4.  Federal Review of Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices.  (a)  It is the policy of the United States that large online platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, as the critical means of promoting the free flow of speech and ideas today, should not restrict protected speech.  The Supreme Court has noted that social media sites, as the modern public square, “can provide perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard.”  Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S. Ct. 1730, 1737 (2017).  Communication through these channels has become important for meaningful participation in American democracy, including to petition elected leaders.  These sites are providing an important forum to the public for others to engage in free expression and debate.  Cf. PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74, 85-89 (1980).

(b)  In May of 2019, the White House launched a Tech Bias Reporting tool to allow Americans to report incidents of online censorship.  In just weeks, the White House received over 16,000 complaints of online platforms censoring or otherwise taking action against users based on their political viewpoints.  The White House will submit such complaints received to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

(c)  The FTC shall consider taking action, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to prohibit unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, pursuant to section 45 of title 15, United States Code.  Such unfair or deceptive acts or practice may include practices by entities covered by section 230 that restrict speech in ways that do not align with those entities’ public representations about those practices.

(d)  For large online platforms that are vast arenas for public debate, including the social media platform Twitter, the FTC shall also, consistent with its legal authority, consider whether complaints allege violations of law that implicate the policies set forth in section 4(a) of this order.  The FTC shall consider developing a report describing such complaints and making the report publicly available, consistent with applicable law.

Sec. 5.  State Review of Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices and Anti-Discrimination Laws.  (a)  The Attorney General shall establish a working group regarding the potential enforcement of State statutes that prohibit online platforms from engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices.  The working group shall also develop model legislation for consideration by legislatures in States where existing statutes do not protect Americans from such unfair and deceptive acts and practices. The working group shall invite State Attorneys General for discussion and consultation, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law.

(b) Complaints described in section 4(b) of this order will be shared with the working group, consistent with applicable law. The working group shall also collect publicly available information regarding the following:

(i) increased scrutiny of users based on the other users they choose to follow, or their interactions with other users;

(ii) algorithms to suppress content or users based on indications of political alignment or viewpoint;

(iii) differential policies allowing for otherwise impermissible behavior, when committed by accounts associated with the Chinese Communist Party or other anti-democratic associations or governments;

(iv) reliance on third-party entities, including contractors, media organizations, and individuals, with indicia of bias to review content; and

(v) acts that limit the ability of users with particular viewpoints to earn money on the platform compared with other users similarly situated.

Sec. 6.  Legislation.  The Attorney General shall develop a proposal for Federal legislation that would be useful to promote the policy objectives of this order.

Sec. 7.  Definition.  For purposes of this order, the term “online platform” means any website or application that allows users to create and share content or engage in social networking, or any general search engine.

Sec. 8.  General Provisions. (a)  Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i)    the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii)   the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(b)  This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c)  This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

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NCERT To Revise Curriculum Framework For School Education After 15 Years

Subject experts will initiate this process for school education, and give an interim report by December 2020.



NEW DELHI: In view of the decision of setting up of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Mission under Atma Nirbhar Bharat, Union Ministry of Human Resource Development MHRD has prepared a roadmap for the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) for the academic year 2020-21.

The new roadmap for NCERT has been prepared with a learning outcome-centric approach and NCERT has been tasked to develop the required resources for its implementation leading to all-around improvement in learning outcomes and learning levels of students.

The interim report on the new National Curriculum Framework (NCF) for school education, which is being revised after 15 years, will be submitted by December and the new curriculum is expected to be ready by March next year, according to the HRD Ministry.

The new NCF for school education has been initiated. NCERT will be expected to make changes in the textbooks in accordance with the new NCF. Subject experts will initiate this process for school education, and give an interim report by December 2020. The new NCF is expected to be ready by March 2021,” the HRD Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry has directed the National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) that while redesigning textbooks, it is to be ensured that nothing but the core content is placed in them.

Also, the cognitive load of the textbooks is too high. Additional areas, such as creative thinking, life skills, Indian ethos, art, and integration, need to be integrated. NCERT will also start working on the layout and design of the new textbooks well in advance, however, the new textbooks shall be written based on the new NCF.”

Under Atma Nirbhar Bharat, for PM E-Vidya, NCERT is also expected to prepare content for classes I–XII for SWAYAM PRABHA channels (1 class 1 channel) and start the channels by August this year,” the ministry said.

The revision of the curriculum framework will be in sync with the implementation of the examination reforms such as uniform assessment and evaluation system under the proposed National Assessment Centre as proposed by the New Education Policy draft.

The new National Curriculum Framework (NCF) for School Education has also been initiated. NCERT will be expected to make changes in the textbooks in accordance with the new NCF. Subject experts will initiate this process for school education, and give an interim report by December 2020.

While redesigning textbooks, it is to be ensured that nothing but the core content is placed in textbooks. Also, the cognitive load of the textbooks is too high. Additional areas, such as creative thinking, life skills, Indian ethos, art, and integration, etc. need to be integrated.

NCERT will also start working on the layout and design of the new textbooks well in advance, however, the new textbooks shall be written based on the new NCF. The new NCF is expected to be ready by March 2021.

Under AtmaNirbhar Bharat, for PM E-Vidya, NCERT is also expected to prepare content for Class 1 – 12 for SWAYAM PRABHA channels (1 class 1 channel) and start the channels by August this year.

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MEA Lists Out India’s Priorities For UNSC Seat Campaign

The election for the UN Security Council is slated to be held on June 17.



NEW DELHI: External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar launched a brochure earlier today outlining India’s priorities for its forthcoming campaign to secure an elected seat on the UN Security Council at elections slated for June 17, 2020.

As a single endorsed candidate of the Asia-Pacific Group, India’s candidature is very likely to succeed. In this case, this would be India’s eighth term on the UN Security Council; this two-year tenure will start in January 2021.

India’s approach at the United Nations Security Council will be guided by the following tenets:

  1. Samman (“Respect“)
  2. Samvad (“Communication“)
  3. Sahyog (“Cooperation“)
  4. Shanti (“Peace“)
  5. Samriddhi (“Prosperity“)

External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar asserted that India’s overall objective during the fresh tenure in the UN Security Council will be the achievement of N.O.R.M.S. , New Orientation for a Reformed Multilateral System.

The Priorities Paper, issued as a brochure by the Minister, set out the key priorities for India, as under:

  1. New Opportunities for progress
  2. Effective response to international terrorism
  3. Reforming the multilateral system
  4. A comprehensive approach to international peace and security
  5. Promoting technology with a human touch as a driver of solutions

He said this today at the launch event of a brochure outlining India’s priorities for its forthcoming campaign to secure an elected seat in the UN Security Council.

The election for the UN Security Council is slated to be held on June 17.

As a single endorsed candidate of the Asia-Pacific Group, India’s candidature is very likely to succeed. This would be the nation’s eighth term in the UN Security Council which will begin from January next year.

In his remarks, EAM referred to the international context that the Security Council will confront, with regard to both new and continuing traditional challenges to international peace and security.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further contributed to a more complex international economic and political environment, including by limiting the capacity of States to respond to local, regional and global challenges.

Dr Jaishankar emphasized India’s long-standing role as a voice of moderation, an advocate of dialogue, and a proponent of international law.

He set out India’s principled approach to international relations, which India’s foreign policy establishment would bring to the table at the UN Security Council once India is elected to a two-year term on the Council.

New opportunities for progress, an effective response to international terrorism, reforming the multilateral system, comprehensive approach to international peace and security and promoting technology with a human touch as a driver of solutions have been underlined as the key priorities for the country in its stance at the UN Security Council.

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Think Tanks Need To Take COVID-19 As An Opportunity To Evolve

A need exists for challenging the status quo and integrating socially distant interaction more deeply into their work culture. 



The modern-day think tanks are a legacy of the industrial age. The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), London, established in 1831, is the oldest defence and security studies think tank in the world and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC, established in 1910, is the oldest in the United States (US). The United Service Institution (USI) of India came up in 1870 at Delhi, founded by then British Colonel and later Major General Sir Charles MacGregor, while the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), India’s foremost defence and security studies think tank, was established in 1965.

The late 20th century sowed the seeds of the information revolution and most of the think tanks, much like other institutions, replaced their typewriters with computers. Library records became automated. A large number of publications were now available on the internet, easing access and revolutionising research. In a way, it led to the flattening of the knowledge economy between the haves of the past, with access to the haloed portals of distant libraries, and the have-nots, in small towns with neither the resources nor the ability to reach traditional knowledge banks.

Even as the content was democratised to a large extent amongst far-sighted open societies and institutions, the traditional method of human interaction, guided by the presentation of papers, holding annual conferences and roundtable discussions, largely remained the same.

The “think-tank” circuit, as it came to be referred to, remained resilient in its form and function, despite the winds of change that seemed to be transforming all else.

The dogged persistence of remaining ensconced in the comfort zone of a conference — despite a multi-thousand-mile haul and the obvious cost in terms of time, money and human endeavour to present a 10 to15 minute paper — remained a startling puzzle at most times.

All this continued until COVID-19 intervened, derailing all forms of social interaction, including those of think tanks.

This issue brief argues in favour of converting the constraints imposed by the COVID-19 onslaught into an opportunity to upgrade and evolve the present method of human interaction prevalent in think tanks across the world. This involves a judicious combination of the socially distant methods of interface and interaction, which is likely to enhance efficiency and productivity and will remain less prone to the kind of disruptions witnessed during the past couple of months.

Scope of Activities

Prior to looking at possible alternatives, it is important to understand the scope of the activities carried out by the think tanks and whether it is possible to conduct them without the usual daily interaction.

Most think tanks carry out a number of activities as part of their routine functioning. At the individual level, the mandate includes writing of comments, briefs, papers, monographs, and both edited and single-author books. It also involves the presentation of some of these research findings to an informed audience from amongst the institution and beyond. Institutional events that involve the presence and personal involvement of scholars include project meetings, roundtable discussions, briefings and presentations, interactions with visiting officials and scholars, and organising workshops and seminars – both national and international.

The scope of individual actions in the fulfilment of the mandate further involves field visits, online research, interviews with experts, and visits to archives and libraries. With the exception of visiting the library, none of the other activities necessarily require the regular presence of a scholar within the premises of a think tank building. And in more cases than not, libraries allow the issue of books as well as photocopying of the reference material. This implies that an occasional visit as deemed necessary could meet the requirement of utilising the resources.

The conduct of research, both at the individual and collective level, does benefit from regular interaction between groups of scholars who work on related areas of research.

The cross-pollination of ideas, validation of facts, figures and arguments are all essential elements of quality research. However, the modern tools of interface increasingly provide the necessary means to not only interact seamlessly but also enter into collaborative academic ventures, connecting people and institutions across cities, countries and continents. The following illustration from the aircraft industry highlights this possibility and reinforces its applicability for the think tanks as well.

The example of Boeing shows that the complex process of designing and developing parts for the aircraft has been outsourced across the globe for a number of years.

The Boeing 737 has 367,000 parts which are designed and manufactured worldwide only to be integrated at a factory in Renton in the US.

This demands very close coordination, exchange of ideas and documents on a daily basis, and adherence to strict protocols and timelines.

The ability to have relatively high-quality interaction has also been facilitated by improvements in connectivity, both in case of handheld devices and broadband networks over time. The era of the second and third generation of data transmission placed obvious limitations on the ability to have virtual interaction through electronic means.

However, with the advent of fourth generation data transfer speeds at a personal level, access to broadband transmission, and the introduction of fifth-generation transfer on the horizon, it is likely that the existing quality of virtual interaction will become an even more viable option.

The aforementioned points reaffirm the technological viability of virtual interaction, something which has emerged as an option of choice for webinars over the years.

However, unlike their corporate cousins, think tanks have studiously shied away from the concept, instead opting for mega-scale seminars, often at a large comparative cost. As an illustration, as long back as 2011, HubSpot set a record for organising the largest online marketing seminar, with the registration of 30,000 and participation of 10,899 people.

Therefore, purely in terms of technical feasibility and practicality, the concept of webinars has a long record of successful conduct.

While the conduct of a large event, as in case of a mega-webinar, does require elaborate coordination, the same is not the case with smaller interactions like roundtable discussions and individualised interactions in think tanks. Its feasibility, both technical and social, is as good or as bad as the quality of the medium and the platform being used.

While tools for this interactivity have been available for long, awareness regarding the same in the public consciousness has witnessed a sudden spurt during the last two months. It has reinforced the practicality of its effectiveness, despite security breaches that have been the case with some of the video conferencing platforms.

Advantages of Socially Distant Virtual World

Most think tanks have scholars travelling daily to their institutes. This involves varied commuting durations, often ranging from a few minutes to more than an hour one way. This is bound to be at the cost of both time and money, which can arguably be spent on more productive means related to research.

A recent study of commute times in metropolitans in India suggested that a 10 km distance takes 29 minutes in Delhi, 24 in Bengaluru, 37 in Mumbai and 39 minutes in Kolkata. This could often be worse during times of road improvement and construction activities, which is a regular feature in most of the Indian cities.  This is more than 10 per cent of each working day purely in terms of time spent.

The findings of a recent Gallup poll in the US do not come as a surprise, which suggests that commutes are linked “to poorer overall wellbeing, daily mood, and health.”

The mandate to physically remain present in think tanks on a regular basis robs an institution of the talent of individuals who are located beyond the geographical limits of the cities. It needs little emphasis that scholars given their distinct talent, despite their widespread location across the world, can contribute significantly to the research undertaken by a think tank.

In other words, a think tank can potentially create not only a national but also an international faculty through an online presence, thereby considerably improving their quality of research.

The aforesaid reality emerges as a unique opportunity for smaller think tanks with limited resources. Given that a think tank’s standing is largely dependent on its output in terms of research in all forms of expression, both text and audio-visual, this model allows smaller and more nimble institutions to compare favourably with their larger and better-financed compatriots.

Resources which tend to get locked down for maintaining large fixed assets and associated high expense outflows instead can now get suitably focussed towards hiring a more diverse research faculty and enhancing outreach.

This is not a new concept as it has remained the basis for innovation since the information technology revolution. There are numerous examples of young, bright and focussed engineers who have outdone large established software and hardware behemoths. From Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak creating Apple to Bill Gates and Paul Allen’s experiment with Microsoft, it has always come at the cost of an IBM or similar behemoth clones.

While there has been a case for change for long, however, the information revolution has flattened the knowledge curve. The free flow of technology and knowledge has levelled the playing field like never before in human history. There is no reason for the same not to be replicated in the arena of think tanks.

Research quality and output are not only enhanced as a result of external inputs but is also improved in-house, given the flexibility of the work environment, availability of additional working hours and lower commute related stress levels.

The COVID-19 related work environment has provided an interesting opportunity for experimenting with this proposition.

The website of MP-IDSA, the think tank this author has been associated with on a fulltime basis, presents interesting statistics. The Institute’s website posts write-ups (commentaries and issue/policy briefs) on strategic issues of concern on a regular basis. These usually numbered an average of eight to nine every month. However, during the tentative period of lockdown, from March 20 to April 20, 2020, the website posted 25 commentaries and briefs. In the month of April, a record 35 write-ups were posted on the website. Though the COVID-19 outbreak may have partly contributed to the increase, however, the trend is very much evident. While this period did see a drop in the number of large-scale events and physical interactions, the tremendous jump in research productivity, as reflected in the record number of write-ups posted on the Institute’s website, as well as wider participation in the Institute’s webinars which served an equal purpose are indeed noteworthy.

This trend of flexible working conditions leading to greater research output is reinforced by the findings of some of the studies conducted earlier.

In addition to the tangible output, the frequency, quality and attendance of virtual interactions too improved dramatically. The participation of individuals from across the world further added value to discussions, with the inherent flexibility of scheduling and taking away the stress of cross time-zone travels. Physical space and cost were no longer critical elements for planning virtual events. This resulted in an increased frequency and more diverse inputs from scholars who would have otherwise found it more difficult to participate in proceedings.

Challenges of Virtual World

Some of the examples discussed indicate the feasibility of conducting certain activities undertaken at the individual and organisational level online. This does not come without its attendant costs. Some of these, given their intangible nature, might seem insignificant but can have a considerable long-term impact on efficiency and effectiveness.

The importance of human interactivity lies in it being a social activity, which contributes towards the psychological wellbeing of individuals. A study done in the context of four cities of China reinforces this factor. It suggests that the “use of the Internet for interpersonal communication is not the same as offline face-to-face communication in enhancing the quality of life.”

Social interaction also alleviates psychological levels amongst people as studies undertaken since the advent of the information age have repeatedly suggested.

While sharing the findings of a study conducted among older adults, Alan Teo, a psychiatrist at Oregon Health & Science University, had stated:

We found that all forms of socialization aren’t equal. Phone calls and digital communication, with friends or family members, do not have the same power as face-to-face social interactions in helping to stave off depression.”

Think tanks also play host to visiting scholars from other countries. Their physical presence allows them to interact with scholars and visit archives, a facility which may not be available online. In certain exceptional circumstances, studies which are classified cannot utilise online resources and need to rely on interactions alone to work within the necessary security parameters.

There is little doubt that the interpersonal interactivity not only enhances the work atmosphere, it also facilitates better quality of research, both for psychological reasons and the quality of interaction that personal meetings can potentially generate.

The need to access facilities like the library has already been outlined earlier in the brief. This is likely to remain a factor which will necessitate physical proximity to resources unless a stage is reached wherein all documents are available in the digital format.

The Way Ahead

The contestation between the virtual and physical functioning is a reminder of yet another discussion between seemingly opposing ends of the strategic spectrum – ensuring security vs building the economy for the public good, more popularly known as the guns versus butter debate.

However, it has since been widely acknowledged that security and economy are integral and concomitant elements of state function.

Similarly, for think tanks, the ability to balance the reality of socially distant interaction and proximity functioning too must co-exist seamlessly. There are obvious advantages of best employing the virtues of an interconnected world. Yet, this virtual world is not perfect, nor is it without its limitations. The logical solution to overcome existing challenges as a result of COVID-19, as also maintaining social interactivity, emerges from a more judicious co-relation of the two seemingly opposing options.

The existing status of events and functioning in most think tanks suggest that there is a need to increase the proportion of virtual interaction in our daily lives.

Simultaneously, it would be useful to explore the option of working from home on specified days of a week, to begin with, with stipulations that require the simultaneous fulfilment of existing work norms. This will enlarge the scope of interaction, improve the quality of output, bring down costs of operation and make institutions much more resilient to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A series of initiatives successfully undertaken at MP-IDSA and other think tanks in the country during the last one month serves as a useful example for challenging the status quo and integrating socially distant interaction more deeply into our work culture.

Some of these points can be used for future planning and implementation of research and outreach programmes in think tanks more productively and efficiently, even after the adverse impact of COVID-19 has faded away.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Originally published by the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.inhere.

Vivek Chadha

Colonel (retd.) Vivek Chadha is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. He served in the Indian Army for 22 years before taking premature release. His research focus covers counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and terrorism finance.

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