Priyanka Chaturvedi

It's all about me!!My people, my favourite things, my raving and my ranting too!

To regulate or not to regulate. My take.

with 3 comments

A simple Wikipedia search will tell you that ‘Elements considered essential to a democracy include freedom of political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, so that citizens are adequately informed and able to vote according to their own best interests as they see them’ . As citizens of a democratic country we consider free speech as our right. And why shouldn’t we? But in a rapidly shrinking world and free flowing information scenario are we taking this freedom of speech a bit too far especially in an online medium?

As an avid social media enthusiast and someone who cannot live a day without blogging, tweeting and facebooking I was aghast when I heard that a suggestion like censoring social media platforms was being considered. But then I chose to read what was being suggested and I calmed down.

The IT Rules, 2011, which have been cause of much debate states that the websites shall inform users not to publish any posts that are blasphemous, incite hatred, are ethnically objectionable, infringe patents, threaten India’s unity or public order. The websites will have to remove any content within 36 hours on a complaint. Legal or police action can be taken against the website owner if the content is not removed within the specified time frame. Even our constitution while giving us this fundamental right goes on to say thus in article 19  ‘Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause ( 1 ) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence’ The IT Act 2011 reinforces that but yes definitely there is scope for improvement in the Act.

I maybe much hated for saying this but the fact remains that there’s a lot of content that has no business floating out there on the net. Forget political and religious content being inflammatory, the personal abuse and slander is also something that cannot be overlooked. Just because you have a medium does not mean you have the right to abuse it. Some self restraint is a must. As a user of these platforms myself I am sometimes taken aback with the kind of venom that goes as freedom of speech, a privilege that one gets for being a citizen of a democratic country.

The Indian army ‘coup’ that never was one created much outrage and recently it was Sachin Tendulkar’s nomination to the RS, or the AMS episode that led to much outrage. Lots of permutations and combinations were reached at by the users of this medium leading to intense debates, accusations etc. Such was the outrage that it led to a national debate and we had clarifications coming from every quarter. By the way we the people on such platforms love outraging, we can create a controversy out of thin air. We can intensely and passionately debate on anything and everything. Trade insults, be sarcastic, nasty etc. but still end up saying all is well. Yes that is us. Some public personalities who are on such forums end up facing a lot of flak for just being available on them. There is little applause but more outrage reserved for these personalities.

Having said that I wouldn’t want to throttle the voices, the more we hear and read, I believe the more we learn. Everyone’s opinion matters and these platforms especially forums like twitter and facebook if used effectively can give shape to ideas and policies through public participation. If we look at a few examples around the world we will truly comprehend the power of this medium.

In late 2010, the Arab Spring made the political power of this medium apparent. Protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, etc, released real-time video footage and Twitter updates as they fought on the streets. We saw similar use of the medium in Iran too. The significance of this medium is apparent when office bearers worldwide use it effectively to communicate with the people and our own government is in the process of finalizing a policy draft exhpting the importance of the medium and encouraging government departments to actively engage with the people through these platforms.

Even if we were to look at statistics The Nielsen Company along with Absolutdata conducted a research on social media in India & here are some of the findings. With 30 million users already members of social networking sites and over the next six months 45000 to join each day clearly shows the growing importance of social media platform in the country.  20 out of the 30 million Indians spend time on social networking sites daily and most Indians spend more time on social media than they do checking personal email. Social Media in India is growing at 100 percent and is likely to touch 45 million users by 2012. The numbers are huge; the outreach through this medium is quicker.

Also very clearly in a diverse country like us social platforms prove to be one of the most unifying factors. With so many diverse voices and opinions and every person wanting to contribute this could very well turn out to be a formidable and powerful platform to garner opinion of the people at large, especially in democratic countries. But then we must also keep in mind that every country has different social values, different sensitivities, and different issues to handle. So many of these platforms should also adhere to the norms of the country they plan to do business in. No this is definitely not shutting up the voice of the people but rather making it a more effective, refined and streamlined process.

In effect censorship of social media is not what democratic country needs, what is needed is self-restraint, self-censorship on the end users part, clearly defined policy framework in conjunction with the government policies by such service providers so that the ambiguity and animosity is reduced and a continuous exchange of information is maintained.



Written by Priyanka Chaturvedi

May 2, 2012 at 6:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Priyanka,

    I largely agree with your conclusion. I have some additional thoughts that I am sharing below.

    In my opinion, the problem is with the abuse of freedom (for users) or of power (with the regulators). The norms of a society are what most people do in that society. If Indian users are behaving in a certain way on Facebook, that is the norm the users are creating not Facebook. I can’t see how Facebook is disrespecting Indian norms or culture in this context. I can see how it may be troubling some folks to see the traditional norms and values being replaced by new ones on social media. This has happened with every generation; just that the pace has picked up and the change is in our faces now.

    As far as laws are concerned, they are often open to interpretation. I now believe that they are often intentionally written to be open to interpretation – one interpretation gets them passed while the intended usage is somewhat different. It is quite common to have laws that are presented as having a noble intent but the devil is in the enforcement. Who decides what is “blasphemous, incites hatred, is ethnically objectionable, threatens India’s unity or public order.” It is quite easy to see what kind of regimes use these arguments today (and have used in the past) to blatantly suppress freedom. Blasphemy – just search for fatwas issued against artists. Public order – that is probably the single most significant argument that our neighbor to the North makes when covering up suppression. While praising the role of these media in Arab Spring, let’s not forget that the governments there tried their best to suppress these media using similar arguments.

    Of course, businesses will have to comply with laws within each country. Though, it will be really crazy for these platforms to devise censorship models and to be the gatekeepers of morality in each country in a different way. In a democracy like ours, it probably boils down to what people want. So beware what you wish for because you just might get it!

    My 2 cents.

    (Vickram’s friend)


    May 2, 2012 at 12:56 pm

  2. Very well said. One of the things I remember from school days is all my rights have duties attached with it. So I have right to free speech but duty not to abuse or slander. We have to live our lives both real and virtual with in the scope of law.

    No one should have absolute freedom for simple reason that it will be abused. If you abuse abuse a policeman on duty; verbally or physically, you will be arrested. So if I abuse the police on Facebook, I should be jailed. There is no question about it.

    I believe the novelty of internet is not yet over. We human are still understanding and trying to get a grip on this monster we call internet. To make matters worse, we now have social media which complicates it further.

    Devendra Rara

    May 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm

  3. Well said

    Kiran Manral

    May 17, 2012 at 9:25 am

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