By: Dr Ahmed Raza
new foundation for social media and journalistic independence seems to be strengthened legally after the recent Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order against social media clampdowns by the state governments and police departments over individual’s use of face-book, Twitter etc during the ongoing wave of pandemic to seek medical help or administrative attention by sharing information about scarcity of beds, oxygen, medicines, ICU, ventilators, ambulances etc in both government and private hospitals. The second wave of Covid-19 pandemic in India needs to be viewed very seriously by the government, health administration, health sector industries etc as a large numbers of unfortunate incidences of fatalities, shortages of beds and medicines, oxygen supply as well as coordination gap among the agencies etc were reported by social media platform.
Though, the authenticity, reliability and actual fact of the reporting by the social media have always been questioned by the existing state governments as several states always remain intact in achieving number one position among the Covid-19 management state. Even, few of the states namely Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra have come forward strongly by booking various cases against the citizens who tried to seek help during their emergencies hours applying social media, citing a case of spreading misinformation about the availability of the resources into the hospitals that led to create panic situation in the society.
Now onwards, exposing grievances or asking for any emergencies help through social media at ‘mouse click’ speed during Covid-19, emergencies or any natural disaster like situation amounts to be a legal right after the supreme court order. At the same time, we cannot abscond social media freely in the name of right to freedom as manipulation in social media has undoubtedly contributed to other sensitive issues in our society such as political polarization, increasing the crime of mob lynching, triggering communal conflict, communalism through hate speech, converting nationals to anti nationals etc.
This paper tried to explore the possibilities of social media reforms in accordance with the legal provision, right to freedom, right to privacy, right to life etch which must be taken as a balance approach while dealing with social media reform in India. India has emerged as the seventh largest market for social media sites as it provides an opportunity to every citizen to discuss everything over the sites and fix their views.
The first political experiment in India could be associated of BJP which mainly focussed on social media campaigning during the 2014 elections in order to grab the minds of youth led to a grand victor of BJP over the congress party. Over the years, the usages of social media from every section of the society has appeared to be like an unguided missile that always poses a great threat to our society in terms of sovereignty, security, secularism, unity, diversities, privacy etc.
Hence, anticipation for social media reforms in India deserves to be an indispensable for the government. Following are the two models of social media reforms providing a balanced approach among the several rights such as right to freedom of expression, right to access information, right to privacy etc.
Social media: need for a state regulation
The contents of social media are expected to be publishable or pubic portal in accordance with the freedom of speech and expression conferred under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian constitution. Although, a large numbers of incidences of misused of social media platform by the citizens, political parties, social activists have been seen who always remained intact in expressing their views against security, sovereignty and integrity of the state, public order, contempt of court, incitement of an offence, decency and morality. Such kind of freedom of expression always deserves to be a formal censorship as social media never gives a freehand tool for anyone. The role of social media in increasing the hatred and inhuman crime of mob lynching has appeared into our society during the last few years. Social media has also been misused in order to contribute to communal violence by spreading fake, fabricated and manipulated message and videos. In 2012, many states of India including Karnataka and Pune became an eyewitness of migration of northeast students and people from the southern states due to instigation of an erroneous propaganda through social media. Converting national or intolerant people to anti-nationals has become a common practice of social media platform by tempering the original videos, pictures and message before uploading into the social media sites so as set a narrative against the targeted people. Such kind of miss-information and unlawful activities amounts to be the consequences of social media platform which are being used as a free hand tool in the hands of citizens, political parties etc that must be formally regulated in accordance with the constitutional provisions.
Social media: Need a free from state regulation
The contents of social media can-not be formally censored by the government on many accounts such as posting critical view on policies, governance model and such issues of individual life during emergencies hours. The Chief Justice of Tripura High court broadly remarked that posting on social media was tantamount to a “fundamental right” applicable to all citizens as the police had booked a man who was earlier arrested over a social media post against the union government policies. On the other hand, there must be full of freedom to all citizens for exposing the mal-administration, asking help from any one during emergencies or natural disasters if posting restricted to polices, governance, health, and such issues associated to right to life of an individual. For the last few years, social media has emerged as one of the most important mode of instant relief mechanism during natural disaster and Covid-19, hence social media regulation must be brought in accordance with the right to life as enriched in our constitution. A large number of life-threatening incidences have been experienced for the last decade in which social media acted as a quick informer to the authorities if an individual life amounted to be on high risk.
The first instance of such an event occurred in Uttrakhand floods in which tweeter has played a vital role in helping the people. At the same time in 2015 another natural disaster of Cyclone in Chennai, social media in the form of application of Face-book application has acted by starting ‘Safety-check’ through which people can tell their near and dear ones regarding their safety.
To conclude, it could be argued that social media has appeared to be life-line for those who belong to poverty, needy people, remote area during the on-going second wave of Covid-19 pandemic as life saving requisitions kept on hitting the social media platform, making informed the concerned authority that led to timely disposal of the requisitions from government agencies, civil societies, NGOs etc. Hence, it’s high time to think of social media reform rather than social media regulation in terms of its relevancy to the society.
Author is Assistant Professor, MANUU &
Project Director- (MRP, ICSSR)
Ministry of Education. He can be reached at email@example.com