Social Media and Freedom of Speech and Expression

Social Media and Freedom of Speech and Expression

What is Social Media :

  • Social media are interactive Web 2.0 Internet-based applications. It's user-generated content such as text posts or comments, digital photos or videos, and data generated through all online interactions, which is the lifeblood of social media. Social media is primarily internet and smartphone-based tools used for sharing and discoursing information. Social media facilitates online social networks by connecting a user's profile with individuals or groups.

How Social Media Different from other Traditional forms of Communication :

  • Social Media is a great platform for the voiceless people to have a voice.
  • Its collaborative identity construction where posts by different individuals come together to create a dynamic and evolving identity and user profiles are informed by both the users and their connections.
  • Social connections are like friendships, followers, etc.
  • Personal social network makes social ties visible and consequently, searchable and quantifiable.
  • An evolving user interface and privacy settings alter both users and visibility through the site, as well as the ability of the user to reasonably control it.
  • Users voluntarily disclose personal details, beliefs, and preferences in order to socialise.
  • Social media content is easily contextualised in many aspects.

About Freedom of Expression in our Constitution :

  • Freedom of speech and expression is a notion that every person has the natural right to freely express themselves through any media without any interference, such as censorship, and without fear of reprisal, such as threats and persecutions as in Article 19 (1) a and Article 21 and it comes with certain limitations as in Article 19 (2)
  • Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India also confers on the citizens of India the proper to freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of speech and expression means the right to specific one’s opinions freely by word of mouth, writing, printing, pictures, or the opposite mode. It also includes the correct to propagate or publish the views of people furthermore.

As per Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India, the legislature may enact laws to impose restrictions on the correct to speech and expression on the subsequent grounds :

  • Sovereignty and integrity of India
  • Security of the State
  • Friendly relations with foreign states
  • Public order
  • Decency or morality
  • Contempt of court
  • Defamation
  • Incitement to an offense

Better Alternate to 66 (A) is need of the Hour :

  • After the teen was arrested on IT Act 66 (a) for questioning the shutdown of Mumbai following the death of Shiv Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray in her Facebook post, which was liked and shared by her friend. Justice J Chelameswar and justice R F Nariman said, 66 (a) provision "clearly affects" the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Constitution.
  • Justice R F Nariman, gave the verdict that 66 (A) "clearly affects" the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression as mentioned in the Constitution. Bench mentioned that this provision is "unconstitutional", the court said terms like "annoying", "inconvenient" and "grossly offensive", used in the provision are unclear as it is difficult for the law enforcement agency and the offender to know the elements of the offence. There is an important statement made by the bench which says "What may be offensive to a person may not be offensive to the other."

Conclusion :

  • We all accept that social media is a very powerful means of freedom of speech and expression especially for the voiceless people but unfortunately it has been increasingly used for unlawful activities from all sections of society including individuals, corporations, and political leaders which have laid foundation stones to thoughts of censoring social media.
  • On the other hand, the misuse of social media demands the need for formal censorship, on the other hand, there are fears of violation of civil rights of people as an inevitable consequence of social media censorship.
  • There is a possibility of formal guidelines similar to “media certification and monitoring committee” done to monitor the election campaigns on social media and if we understand correctly it’s not censorship. Our current IT Act of India is not adequate to suit the current trends and social media consumption patterns of our society.
  • There is an immediate need for a committee to be formed which can draft some guidelines. We should have technical experts and civil society experts along with the government to look into all the possible facets of the use and misuse of social media and recommend a suitable manner in which it can provide a guideline that does not hinder the civil rights of citizens, especially the freedom of speech and expression.

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