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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)

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Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality

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  • Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg will not attend the U.N.’s climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland this November.
  • “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem,” the 18-year-old tweeted Friday, adding, “Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions.”
  • Since rollouts began late last year, 40% of vaccines have been administered in wealthy and Western countries, according to The Washington Post.
  • Scientists have warned that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg Points To Vaccine Inequality

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she is skipping the UN’s climate change conference.

The COP26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November, but 18-year-old Thunberg told BBC she won’t attend because she’s concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on attendance.

In a Twitter thread Friday, she responded to a headline about her plans to miss the summit.

“Of course I would love to attend…But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms. Right now many countries are vaccinating healthy young people, often at the expense of risk groups and front line workers (mainly from global south, as usual…),” she wrote.

“Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.”

“Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions,” the teen continued.

Thunberg went on to say that if the summit is delayed, it doesn’t mean urgent action should too.

“We don’t have to wait for conferences nor anyone or anything else to dramatically start reducing our emissions. Solidarity and action can start today,” she added before noting that digital alternatives for the conference would also be insufficient.

“High speed internet connection and access to computers is extremely unequal in the world. In that case we would lack representation from those whose voices need to be heard the most when it comes to the climate crisis,” she wrote.

Data on Global Vaccine Distribution Efforts

According to The Washington Post, nearly 20% of people in the United States are now vaccinated, but many other countries are unlikely to hit that same metric by the end of the year, even with international assistance through the Covax program.

Current projections predict it could be years before developing countries distribute enough doses to come close to herd immunity, which scientists say requires inoculating around 70-80% of a population.

Since rollouts began late last year, enough shots have been distributed to fully vaccinate about 5% of the world’s population, but The Post reported that the vast majority have been administered in wealthy and Western countries.

Around 40% of vaccines have been given in 27 wealthy nations that include only 11% of the world’s population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

That’s pretty concerning because scientists also warn that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg’s comments are a blow for U.K. organizers, who have already postponed the conference once from last November because of the pandemic. Even now, there has been speculation that it could be delayed again this year.

Thunberg would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.

At COP25, the young climate change activist gave a headline speech and she typically attends major climate events of this nature. On top of that, reports say this summit was slated to be one of the most consequential climate conferences since the 2015 Paris accord.

On the agenda for this year’s conference discussions were country-level plans for cutting carbon emissions, along with progress on the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (CNBC) (The Washington Post)

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