In India, polarising content and hateful material on the Internet has proliferated in recent past. Opinions that an individual would earlier hold back due to their fear of societal backlash have now found their paradise in virtual environment. A constructive criticism by the citizens is very much required as it shows the interest of the citizens in the matters pertaining to the country. A healthy criticism not only keeps the powers of the representatives in check but also gives a different perspective to the representatives and law makers about their decisions for the country.
With time the citizens have expanded their horizons and found new platforms to put our their opinions by using the means of internet. With globalization the use of internet has increased tremendously. The millennials of the country have used this innovation to create various platforms for themselves to keep their opinions in front of the world. One such platform is social media.
Social media has not only helped people connect with each other, especially during the present time of Covid-19 where people are struggling to meet their loved ones but it has also helped everyone to be more expressive about their thoughts and opinions by giving them a space where they can come together and talk about the on-going issues of the world. We can say that the occurrence of social media was almost serendipitous for the whole world.
If on one hand social media helps people to connect with each other and be more expressive but on the other hand it also provides the people to use their freedom of speech and expression and create misunderstandings, hostility, hatred and biasness in the mind of the viewers and readers.
As pleasing as it sounds social media activism nowadays has taken a route of hate speeches by the ‘Social Media Activist’. Hate speech is defined by the "public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation".
SOCIAL MEDIA ACTIVISM
‘Social Media Activism’ can be defined as activism via internet and various social media platforms like Facebok, Twitter, Instagram and so on. This concept is new and has taken popularity among citizens recently. Some instances of social media activism are #BlackLivesMatter , #LoveWins and #MeToo. One may ask that why is it important to know about social media activism? That is because hate speeches have their roots in social media activism. So even though social media is a great place or we can say another platform for people to express themselves and speak on the issues going in the world but it also gives a safe place to people to incite hatred and rage amidst the citizens of the country.
Like every other thing has advantages and disadvantages so does social media activism. So even though social media activism helps in fast delivery of justice by putting pressure on the judicial system it also hampers the peace and safety of the country in the following ways:
Spreading A Hostile Agenda And Inciting Hatred
Spreading a hostile agenda is an integral part of the Social Media Activism and incites hatred and rage in the minds of the citizens of the country that further results in violence and mass protests.
The most significant example of this would be the protest on Citizenship Amendment Bill. All this was done under a larger conspiracy to destabilize the elected government at the Centre. The conspirators had designed these riots to embarrass the country on the international forum as the US President was on a visit to India at that time. The timing was already fixed and everything was planned. The messages through WhatsApp groups were spread on mobile phones to gather on the different roads in the capital.
Social Media Activism Becomes Performative
Performative activism is the name for posting about social issues or attending events for personal purposes, usually to gain social clout, rather than from devotion to the actual cause. In a world of TikTok trends and Twitter hashtags, it’s easy to get swept up in whatever’s popular.
Shifts The Focus From Main Topic
It won’t be wrong to say that Social Media Activism brings the issues happening in the world in the limelight. However, sometimes the exhaust the issues at hand and shift their focus to the other aspects that are related to the main issue. Due to this the whole movement loses it’s significance and is eventually forgotten. One can notice this in the Late actor Sushant Singh Rajput case. The whole case took much limelight on social media with millennials talking about the importance of mental health. However, slowly the focus shifted to the practice of lobbying in the film industry and then to the drug use. Due to this the main objective of the case that was seeking justice for the late actor was exhausted.
So even though Social Media Activism has many advantages but it also has many disadvantages and somewhere it gives birth to hate speeches on social media.
HATE SPEECHES ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND THEIR CONSEQUENCES
Hate speech can be defined as any speech that is abusive, incites hatred and violence, mobilizes the crowd, creates an environment of hostility amongst the citizens of the country. Hate speeches are generally against a religion, caste, race, sex and a particular group. Their main purpose is to hamper the peace and tranquillity of a particular country.
Social Media provides people with a very protective environment where they can hide behind their fake accounts and spread hate speeches. This has been noticed in many incidents in the past. In the famous case of Kodungallur Film Society vs Union Of India on 1 October, 2018 it was observed that mass protests and violence occurred regarding the release of the movie ‘Padmaavat’. Hate speeches and messages were spread throughout the city using social media platforms. In another case of Babu Khan vs The State Of Bihar on 2 March, 2020, the prosecution case, as per the FIR is to the effect that the petitioner spread a video of communal hate speech on social media (Whatsapp), as a result, the peace between two communities got disturbed. The Islamic far right in countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia and the Maldives, the Christian far right in the US and Western Europe, the Buddhist far right in Myanmar, and the Hindu far right in India, are feeding on people’s sentiments of being “offended” based on their perception of how freely the religious and ethnic minorities can practice their faith and culture (George, 2016). This sense of “offendedness” can often be amplified by the ease of communication on social media. The 2014 electoral battle between India’s two main national parties—the then incumbent Indian National Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—had distinctly ideological overtones that resonated on social-media platforms.
On January 26,2021while India was getting ready to celebrate the Republic Day, the farmers were preparing for the silent protest against the ‘Three Farm Laws’ that were brought in by the Central Government. However, soon after the Republic day parade started the mass protests occurred in the capital city of India that is New Delhi. People in huge crowds started moving towards Red Fort. Later, it was found that this protest was pre-planned on social media and the farmers were misled through the hate speeches of some anti-social groups. The whole country watched as on one hand the people were celebrating the 74th Republic day and on the other hand these protests unfolded.
Online hate speeches have also been observed recently in the on-going Israel-Palestine conflict. They have also been observed during the introduction of Covid-19 vaccinations, West Bengal Elections 2021, Donald Trump visiting India or the Presidential Elections of USA 2020.
HOW CAN HATE SPEECHES BE REGULATED ON SOCIAL MEDIA? SUGGESTIONS BY AUTHOR:
So, in India we have the codified laws like Indian Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code and we also have the Information Technology Act although what we need is an updated unified code for the hate speeches online. A specific law book with do’s and dont’s and with punishments for the offensive content that can be shared on the internet.
Even though social media platforms like Instagram, twitter, Facebook and so on have their own content sharing policies, rarely anyone reports the offensive content that has been shared on these platforms as they feel this will not be affecting them personally. Workshops, Seminars and interactive programmes needs to be conducted for educating young minds about these hate speeches. Making them differentiate between the legitimate speech and hate speech is more important and making them capable of reporting any hate speech that they observe on social media is very crucial.
The IT cell of the central government can include University level students or the youth of the country and seek their help to regulate hate speech as millennials are more active on social media and they can guide and make the upcoming generations by taking webinars and seminars. They can control the hate speeches by reporting these to the IT department. Due to this three things will happen; first, youth will become more responsible, aware and connected to their country, second, the task at hand will be done and third the overburdened government will get a chance of unloading some of their burden.
Lastly, inspiration can be taken from other countries like Germany an. The Nazi legacy has made Germany especially sensitive to hate speech. A 2018 law requires large social media platforms to take down posts that are “manifestly illegal” under criteria set out in German law within twenty-four hours. Human Rights Watch raised concerns that the threat of hefty fines would encourage the social media platforms to be “overzealous censors.”
The world is dynamic and with globalization, the internet’s speed and reach makes it altogether difficult for the governments all around the world to make legislations for the virtual world. So where on one hand the social media provides a safe space for people to come together and connect with each other contrarily on the other hand it also provides a space to those who have hostile intentions. With the growth of social media activism the rise in the hate speeches on the internet have also been observed. Online hate speeches can do a lot of harm to the world if not regulated properly. They can hamper peace and tranquillity of a country and incite violence throughout the world. Therefore, it is time for the international organizations and governments throughout the world to come together, join hands and collectively take action against this common objective of regulating hate speech on social media for the benefit of humanity.