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PUBG Bans and Arrests in India Prompt Technology Debate

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  • Numerous cities in India banned PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) in March and threatened to arrest anyone caught playing the game in public, arguing that it is addictive and encourages violence.
  • 21 people were arrested during the bans, some of whom were convicted in court and forced to pay fines.
  • The bans were all lifted by early May, but their lasting impact raised questions on personal freedom, regulation, and public health.

PUBG Takes Over India

Several cities in India banned the popular game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) in March, resulting in the arrests of 21 individuals found playing the game in public, and sparking a debate on technology, personal freedom, and public health that has carried on even after the bans were lifted.

PUBG is an online multiplayer survival game that topped the charts all over the world. PUBG was first released by a South Korean developer on PCs and Xbox One consoles in 2017, but it was not until the next year that the game became huge in India. It rose in popularity in the country after it started being offered as a free smartphone app.

After that, PUBG exploded in India. Within a few months, it became the top-grossing app on Android in the country, a rank it still holds. In other words, PUBG’s popularity in India is almost entirely unprecedented.

However, the game quickly started to create some serious problems. In August, one of the first negative impacts of the game was seen when a 15-year-old boy was admitted to a clinic for alleged PUBG addiction.

Everything escalated from there. In January of this year, a fitness trainer from the Kashmir region was admitted to the hospital after he began self-harming because he was “addicted” to the game. Then, in early February, a teenager committed suicide after his parents refused to give him a new phone to play the game.

Unsurprisingly, those events and others similar to them sparked some fierce backlash. Locals in the Kashmir region called on the government to ban PUBG after the fitness trainer was hospitalized.

That same month, an activist in India demanded a national ban on the game, arguing that it promoted violence and cruelty. Shortly after that, an 11-year-old boy filed a separate court petition to ban PUBG, saying it encourages violence and cyberbullying.

PUBG Bans

In response, some Indian states started taking matters into their own hands.

At the end of January, the state of Gujarat banned PUBG in schools, claiming that students were getting addicted to the game and it was “adversely affecting their studies.” Then, in early March, police in the city of Rajkot, which is in Gujarat, announced they were banning the game altogether.

“From the various sources, it comes to our knowledge that after playing games like [PUBG,] violent traits are shown to be increased in youth and children,” Rajkot Police Commissioner Manoj Agarwal wrote in a statement.

“Due to these games, the education of children and youth are being affected and it affects the behaviour, manners, speech and development of the youth and children.”

Agarwal also said that anyone found playing the game in public would be jailed and fined. He was not bluffing. Just within the first week of announcing the ban, they arrested 10 people for playing PUBG.

The ban also had a spillover effect. Less than a week later, other large cities in Gujarat started banning the game too. By mid-March, Gujarat state police had reportedly arrested 21 people for playing the game in public, most of whom were college students.

In some of the cities in Gujarat, plainclothes cops scoped gamers outside college campuses, cafés, youth hostels, and other places where they could find young people playing games on their phones.

While some got off with a slap on the wrist, others were charged, convicted in court, and fined. Some people were even put in jail briefly.

Response

One of the cities that instituted the ban was Ahmedabad. Ahmedabad’s police commissioner, A.K. Singh, who signed off on the ban in his city, told BuzzFeed News that he did so because the game was “leading to behavioral change and addiction among the city’s youngsters.”

Singh also said that he had received numerous complaints from parents saying their kids were becoming more aggressive and isolated and that the game was addictive. On the other side, Buzzfeed News also spoke to an anonymous young person who had been arrested for playing the game.

“I’m really not sure what behavioral changes the police are talking about,” the individual said. “We play it purely for entertainment. It’s a stress-buster. Sure, it’s true that a lot of school and college kids play it more than it is healthy for them. But surely the police have bigger fish to fry than arresting them?”

Those bans were all short-lived. Some cities lifted the ban barely a month after imposing them, with authorities saying because exams in state school were finished, kids did not need to focus on studies anymore. In other cities, like Rajkot, the bans were called off in April and early May.

However, these bans have still created a broader debate about technology and regulation in India. In April, government officials in India banned popular the app TikTok, arguing that it exposed minors to pornography.

Though they went back on that a few days later and reversed the ban, that event, as well as the PUBG bans, have left many people wondering if outright prohibition is the right move.

Also in April, a New Dehli-based organization called the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), filed a complaint against the PUBG ban in Gujarat.

“For a young student who is worried about his family’s reaction and future career prospects, being arrested by the police can be a deeply traumatic experience,” IFF wrote on their website. “To us, the PUBG ban is fuelled by moral panic, and the harms from video games require scientific studies and non-legal methods of engagement.”

The court reportedly threw the case out quickly, arguing that there is no constitutional right to play video games. However, the case does raise some interesting questions on gaming, personal freedom, and public health.

Apar Gupta, the Director of IFF, told BuzzFeed News that rapid rate that new technology is reaching India has put pressure on the country’s perception of their citizens’ constitutional rights.“We need well-articulated regulatory processes,” he said.

“We don’t have the breadth of laws required to understand the internet in 2019, and we don’t have an enforcement framework. So bans are a natural course of action for the government. India is dishing out ham-handed solutions without having a clear direction about what its online space should look like.”

Not everyone agrees with this approach. “Everything has two sides,” Singh told Buzzfeed News.  

“If you’re a concerned parent who is seeing your child’s life getting destroyed because they are addicted to this game, you have a different point of view. If you haven’t experienced that, you care more about freedom of speech and freedom of choice. I think it’s important to take a holistic view on this.”

See what others are saying: (Buzzfeed News) (Vice) (Bloomberg)

International

Petition Calls for Ban on Sexualized Fanfiction in South Korea

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  • A petition circulating across South Korea calls for sexualized fanfiction depicting K-pop stars and other real people to be outlawed and classified as sex crimes.
  • The petition particularly focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and argues that they often feature people who are minors.
  • A similar petition was submitted last week to President Moon Jae-in; however, it focused on deep fakes. Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon.

K-Pop Fanfiction Causes Chaos

A petition began circulating across South Korea this week demanding that “real person slash” fanfiction works be outlawed and charged as sex crimes.

“Real person slash” refers to a specific form of fanfiction that most often features sexualized versions of K-pop stars and other real people.

In particular, the petition focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and the age of some of the people being portrayed. The petition notes, “due to the nature of the profession of idols, whose average age is young, many of the victims are still minors or children.”

The petition was submitted to the Blue House, South Korea’s version of the White House, and currently has over 200,000 signatures. It received a big boost in attention after K-pop star Nancy, from the group Momoland, was secretly filmed by a member of her agency while she was changing backstage. This person then doctored some of the images and uploaded them online.

While Nancy’s case isn’t hand-drawn fanfic, it did fuel outrage at what’s seen as an ineffective approach towards sex crimes in the country. Signers of this petition believe that these fanfics fall into the same category of likely illegality as deep fakes.

Deep Fakes Also Being Targeted

Additionally, just last week deep fakes – which often feature k-pop stars – had its own petition submitted to the president last week with over 300,000 signatures.

Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon Jae-in

For years South Korea has struggled with secret cameras, deep fakes, revenge porn, and more violent sex crimes, such as the infamous Nth Room case that saw certain stars filming themselves having sex with women against their consent.

See What Others Are Saying: (CNA) (The Korea Herald) (South China Morning Post)

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Italy Begins Largest Mob Trial in Decades

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  • Italian prosecutors have started their trial against more than 320 defendants linked to the  ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.
  • The charges range from murder and drug trafficking to extortion and money laundering.
  • The case is so large, high-profile, and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.
  • Details uncovered could deliver a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealings in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

Hundreds of ‘Ndranghetisti Facing Charges

A major mob trial kicked off in Italy Wednesday involving more than 320 defendants who are part of or associated with the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.

In addition to these defendants going on trial, 90 others have elected for a fast-tracked trial elsewhere in Calabria.

While this is a massive affair, it’s still not the country’s largest mob-related trial in history. That happened in the ’80s against the Cosa Nostra from Sicily.

The trial is so high-profile and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, close to the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.

The court is looking at many charges against the defendants, including extortion, drug and arms trafficking, money laundering, and Mafia association – a term used in Italy’s penal code for members of organized crime.

Breaking Into the Family

Investigators hope that the trial will show just how entrenched organized crime is in the territory, as it’s believed that the ‘Ndrangheta has dealings with local politicians and businessmen. These dealings are believed to not only stem from their illicit activities but also from their legitimate businesses that were initially funded via crime-related funds. Either way, the trial is seen as a major blow for the group.

The organization is made up of multiple groups of tight-knight families that are all interconnected. For years investigators have tried to get more information on the group but following the arrest and prosecution of Luigi Mancuso, a boss in the ‘Ndrangheta, investigators finally had a way to look more closely at 12 families who make up part of the ‘Ndrangheta.

During their investigation police and prosecutors managed to turn some members of those families and use them as informants. They are expected to take the stand as witnesses during the trial. In total, prosecutors hope to put bring out over 900 witnesses.

If successful, this could be a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealing in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

See What Others Are Saying: (ABC News) (LA Times) (Chicago Tribune)

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Hundreds Sickened By Mysterious Illness in India

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  • A mystery illness has hospitalized over 500 people in India and is linked to one death. While most people have recovered and been discharged from the hospital, under 100 people are still being treated.
  • Health officials believe that it is not a viral infection and that it is not tied to the coronavirus pandemic. One official told The Washington Post that it is a “point source epidemic,” but no one knows what is causing it.
  • Blood tests showed patients had high levels of lead and nickel and officials are trying to find what is behind that. Some are also pointing to pesticides used in mosquito treatment as a potential cause behind the outbreak.
  • Still, health officials are puzzled, and the situation comes while India currently trails the United States as the country with the most coronavirus cases. This mystery outbreak is also occurring in one of the hardest-hit states.

Mystery Illness in India

Health officials are still looking for what might be causing a mysterious illness that has sickened hundreds of people this month in India. 

The unidentified illness has put over 500 people in the hospital and taken one life. Most patients have been discharged and recovered but under 100 are still being treated. The disease was first reported on Sunday, and new instances have gone down since the start of the week.

The outbreak started in the state of  Andhra Pradesh. Symptoms range from nausea to anxiety to loss of consciousness, and in some cases, seizures. Some reports say the patient who died suffered from a seizure. Others note they may have fallen as well.

Many patients describe the sickness as hitting them quickly and suddenly as they were going about their day. Some got foggy vision, sore eyes, or incredibly tired before passing out. Many woke up in the hospital and were left with a gap in their memory. 

While the cause of this disease is unknown, health officials do not believe it is tied to the coronavirus in any way as no patients have tested positive. The illness is also not believed to be a viral infection of any kind. 

“What has been established by experts is that this is a case of acute intoxication of toxins. It is not chronic in nature. This is all we know for now,” one high-ranking official told The Washington Post. 

Because cases are already slowing significantly, some believe it might have stemmed from an isolated source or event. 

“This is a point source epidemic,” another official told the Post. “Whatever happened, occurred for one particular day and some people got affected. The number of new patients has dropped.”

Potential Causes

What that source or event may have been remains a mystery that officials are eager to solve. So far, no commonalities have been found between the patients as they all live in different places, are of different ages, and do not test positive for other kinds of illnesses that could be causing or contributing to this outbreak. Clues are beginning to emerge, though. 

One medical official told Al Jazeera that high lead and nickel levels were found in the blood tests of patients. So far, ten have been tested and another 30 will be tested shortly. At first officials thought these levels may have been a result of water contamination, but after water tests were conducted, neither lead nor nickel were found. 

Water contamination as a whole has not been ruled out though. 

“Health experts suspect that excessive use of bleaching powder and chlorine in sanitation programmes as part of Covid-19 prevention measures may be the cause of water contamination,” the Health Minister of Andhra Pradesh told the Indian Express. “This is just one of the causes we are exploring.”

Another theory at play stems from the fact that organochlorines, which are used as pesticides in mosquito control, were found in some water samples. One of the federal legislators in the state believes that the sickness could be tied to that. A public health director confirmed to Al Jazeera that “it is one of the possibilities.”

Timing With COVID-19

Still, all these ideas simply remain possibilities and officials have far more questions than they have answers about this situation. Health officials from the country and the World Health Organization have established a presence in Andhra Pradesh to get to the bottom of the situation.

The timing of this outbreak is unfortunate as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread through India. While daily cases are much lower than they were when it peaked in September in the country, it still remains an issue. 

India is behind the United States in seeing the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases, totaling 9.7 million infections. Around 141,000 people have died in the country. In August, their outbreak was the fastest growing in the world. Andhra Pradesh is among the hardest-hit states in the country. 

Hope is on the horizon as India, like many other countries, could be on track to approve a vaccine within weeks. According to Reuters, health officials will prioritize 300 million people, including healthcare workers, policemen, and those above the age of 50.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Indian Express) (Washington Post)

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