Twitter recently blocked 250+ handles for spreading fake news to instigate the on-going farmer’s protest. A section of Twitteratis was up in arms against this action, incidentally, these were the same people who were gleeful when Trump’s Twitter handle was blocked in the US and also support the blocking and shadow banning of RW handles here in India. What came to notice was that some of the accounts were unblocked later on Monday. Twitter representatives conveyed to the government officials that tweets constituted free speech and are newsworthy.
Social Media today has become a tool in the hands of citizens to express their views and thoughts on various topics. But now there is a feeling among a select few who advocate FOS that the Govt is controlling and monitoring the medium and is not only tampering with the rights of the citizens but also digital scope for a lot of industries.
Freedoms of Speech supporters forget that it cannot be one-sided, and FOS does not give you the freedom to spread fake news.
We spoke to Digital media experts on this issue, Neena Dasgupta | CEO & Director at Zirca Digital Solutions, Aprameya Radhakrishna, Co-Founder of Koo, Deep Mehta, Co-Founder, Digichefs & Kaushal Mahadevia, Sr Account Manager – Brand Communication–GozooP.
We understand that our constitution gives us free speech, but can this be used to instigate unrest?
Neena: Can be used, yes. Should be used, absolutely not. Enjoying and exploiting a privilege are 2 completely different things. Freedom of speech and Expression is our constitutional right, but one also needs to be cognizant of the potential repercussions of exploiting that right. If there is even a remote possibility that one person’s freedom of speech is negatively or adversely impacting any unrelated or innocent party, then extreme caution needs to be exercised by the person making that speech.
Aprameya: Yes the Constitution gives us the Freedom of Speech, but Article 19 also says that FOS cannot be used to incite any kind of unrest in the country. There are 2 viewpoints, what is right and what is wrong, the onus of this lies with the individual.
Deep: There’s a fine line between “voicing one’s opinions” and “encouraging an agitation” that could lead to unrest in the society. While our generation learns to use social media platforms wisely, we will need policies in place that disallow the use of these very platforms, to the advantage of goons.
Hate speech and cyberbullying should definitely be dealt with utmost seriousness by independent authorities who are not be biased in the first place. It may seem a utopian world as of now, but I am sure with adequate use of AI, the platforms are already trying to understand and fix the dark side of the web.
Kaushal: Twitter or any other social media platform cannot be used to instigate people. Every platform has its set of guidelines and these play a very significant role in creating a balanced community. For instance: Twitter accounts allow users starting from 13 years of age and imagine them to come across such content which is indirectly causing an imbalance. While this would just be one such example I’m sure there are plenty of others. Anything in today’s time can be newsworthy but the point here is, is this verified? Does this have any concrete evidence of its existence?
Keeping them said aside, it’s still violating Twitter’s terms and conditions and by that logic, they are entitled to take whatever actions necessary. PS: Why do you think Donald Trump’s account was deactivated?
What as per you is Freedom of Speech (FOS) & Freedom of Expression (FOE)?
Neena: For me, FOS and FOE is a privilege that I enjoy to form my own opinion, seek any information to make/change that opinion and express it openly and fearlessly. As famously said, “With great power comes great responsibility”; and I firmly believe that I have the right to speak my mind and give my opinions; I also have the responsibility that my actions don’t affect others badly. There are countries around the globe, where one doesn’t have a right to speak out, let alone express dissent. There is always a way to express your opinion without being inconsiderate or rude about other people/religion/caste/sex.
It is very important to keep away any instigation of violence that would potentially cause harm to lives. Freedom of speech should be used for constructive
Development of the country and definitely not to instigate violence and unrest.
Aprameya: It is the right to express one’s thoughts and opinions in any chosen manner. With this freedom comes a responsibility of ensuring no incitement of violence ever happens.
Deep: Freedom of speech and freedom of expression evolve us as a society. Our perspectives may not match someone else’s, but the fact that we can accept that two perspectives can exist simultaneously is where maturity and wisdom resides.
If one keeps bashing their thoughts on someone else without giving respect to their point of view, I think, we are just too scared of the challenge that our view may be wrong!
Kaushal: Freedom of speech and expression to be put in simple words would be to put out one’s perspective/thoughts in open but mind that these thoughts if hurt or cause unrest cannot be justified. Though we live in a democratic country and it’s our right to speak and express but it cannot come at a cost that can influence/confuse people to take unlawful actions based on those thoughts.
Freedom of speech and expression is logical thinking backed with some reasoning that is legitimate and true in its sense of feeling.
Was the government right in blocking handles for fake news and instigating the agitating farmers?
Neena: Legally, Article 19 puts restrictions on Freedom of speech if it disrupts public order or incites people to commit any offense. There is a very thin line here that separates right from wrong. If there is non-refutable proof that these handles were peddling fakes news and instigating farmers to create public disorder, then the government is right to block the same handles. But if the action was taken without any proof and just because they spoke in dissent, then it is an infringement of FOS and FOE and the core concept of democracy.
Aprameya: Anyone spreading fake news, especially intentionally, should be blocked. Being responsible and understanding the consequence of spreading fake news is a part of the responsibility all of us should own up when we get the freedom to express in India.
Deep: Fake news, in all forms of communication, needs to be stopped. Today, there are mothers trying to make Covid Vaccines at home because a Whatsapp forward sent them the recipe! Funny, but yes, that’s where we are at in terms of identifying the truth from the false. I believe apart from the government it is our duty in fact to report profiles that spread fake news or encourage violence.
Kaushal: Definitely, even though these platforms allow you to put forward opinions but they come with terms and conditions which when broken/disobeyed it is lawful to take those actions. When speaking about a sensitive topic as such which does not have any real data that can validate or assess the risk of the impact it can cause, I believe it’s the government’s right to block them.