SOCIAL MEDIA AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND EXPRESSION
In a little more than a decade, impact of social media has gone from being an entertaining extra to a fully integrated part of nearly every aspect of our lives. Social media is a platform in which websites and applications enable users to create and share information and content or to participate in social networking. Many famous social media platforms or outlets like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and many more give a right to their users to express their thoughts, moments with everyone they know and this is really great concept implemented for today’s time. These social media platforms are very different from traditional media platforms such as newspapers, television media, magazines, etc. in a variety of terms such as reach, frequency and usability. As we can take an example, a newspaper is delivered to many subscribers but a radio station gives the information to an entire city. The foremost role here is played by internet reaching everywhere one by one as some popular Indian newspapers like Indian Express, Hindustan times, etc. started to give e-paper to their subscribers and have a page on social media platforms followed by millions of people using it. The idea that social media are defined simply by their ability to bring people together has been seen as too broad, as this would suggest that fundamentally different technologies like the telegraph and telephone are also social media. Government may use social media to interact with citizens of the country, analyse public opinion and activities, educate citizens of the country about risks and public health. Social media is used extensively in civil and criminal investigations. Police departments often make use off official media accounts to engage with public, publicize police activity, and burnish law enforcement’s image. Social media marketing is implemented at its peak in the Covid-19 pandemic time as every firm want to capture its market and not stand down in this pandemic so they started marketing of their products or services through social media platform. Social media marketing is the use of social media platforms to connect with your audience to build your brand, increase sales, and drive website traffic. This involves publishing great content on your social media profiles, listening and engaging with followers, analysing your results, and running social media advertisments.
Many pages are there with followers in lakhs and they take paid promotions as well which helps small companies in promoting its brand on a better scale rather using traditional style of advertising. Many renowned brands make their own pages on the social media platforms to promote themselves and any new product launches or is about to be launched everything gets available to that page. But anything which have advantages have certain disadvantages as well. Social media use sometimes involves negative interactions between users. Issues related to cyberbullying, online harassment, and trolling. According to cyberbullying statistics from the i-Safe Foundation, over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyberbullying. Both the bully and the victim are negatively affected, and the intensity, duration, and frequency of bullying are the three aspects that increase the negative effects on both of them.
One phenomenon with the social media is that individuals compare their lifestyles with their friends and other people. Self comparison on social media is common these days and can have effects on physical and mental health of an individual because social media gives ability to seek approval and compare ourselves. If social media is used by people who have the ability to control themselves from self doubting and can use it in their growth can get great impact on their lives in a positive way by using it, as business can do wonders and one can seek many opportunities. Don’t use social media to impress people, use it to give an impact on people. Social media is a person’s utmost power nowadays as anything wrong happens, a protest can be conducted on it, A person can get viral overnight by doing stuff which is different from everyone’s mindset whether it is positive or negative. Content on social media is like fire and social media is the gasoline. Privacy rights advocates warn users on social media about the collection of their personal data. Some information gets captured without user’s knowledge or consent through electronic tracking. Teens specifically share more information on social media rather than grown up adults. Teens are much likely to share their personal information on social media, such as phone number, current location where they are at that time, and school names. Arguments are raised that privacy of social media is dead but companies claim that any irrelevant information is not circulated or asked by them from the users Whether social media is a boon or a curse, is a matter of debate. However, one thing which cannot be denied is that it too difficult to abstain from it. The advantages of being connected to people and keeping yourself updated have undoubtedly made our lives faster, happier and convenient at the same time. The challenges which come along with social media can somehow be kept aside and we can definitely move forward with the advancement it has provided in our daily lives.
Freedom of speech and expression is the birth right of every Indian citizen. Speech is a God’s gift and it is used to convey feeling and thoughts to others. Hence, Article 19 gave this right to every citizen of India by Indian Constitution. Constitution of India gives certain rights to citizens of India and one of the rights, According to article 19 is Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression. Article 19 states that Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. In today’s time social media has played a major role to express thoughts and feelings and to take a stand any wrong stuff whether it is judicial, political or civil. Here every person of India uses his/her right of freedom of speech and expression as whatever they want can convey to others. Local and national reporters, bloggers and news outlets can keep people informed about what is happening in the world around them. Freedom of expression is the legal underpinning which allows people to access information about current events and matters of public interest – whether that’s from large media companies, local newspapers, or from each other through citizen journalism and social media. When freedom of expression is respected and recognised the media are able to freely report on politics, economics and societal events as they occur. When the media cannot accurately tell the whole story, it’s impossible to achieve balanced, high quality journalism. In countries where the media are pressured to only report on things which align with the ideological or political framework: journalists are forced to self-censor. Some do not report the full story, while others choose to report on other, ‘safer’ topics instead. While some brave journalists continue to report on topics regardless of censorship, and often risk fines, legal cases, prison sentences or violence.
A respect for freedom of expression is an essential element for a functioning and accurate media. Freedom of expression is a core value in the democratic process. It ensures people are able to discuss, exchange, and debate ideas. This human right allows individuals and communities to find information which is important to them and share it with others, without censorship or reprisals. Through the media and through public debate – on and offline – freedom of expression supports the development of informed citizens and voters. Being able to think freely, discuss and debate ideas and points of view is integral to academic study – from the arts to the sciences. To develop ideas which help us better understand our past, present and future it’s essential that individuals, groups and institutions can put forward opinions, concepts and theories without fear of repercussions. From stand-up comedy, and satirical cartoons to literature, theatre and the visual arts: freedom of expression is a cornerstone to creating a healthy and vibrant arts culture.
But in today’s time freedom of expression is not only used to express thoughts rather is also used to spread hatred and detestation among people all over the world in the name of religion or in the name of race. Nowadays, in India hatred is spreading like fire in a jungle in the name of freedom of speech. Cyberbullying, body shaming, inflammatory speeches, Rape threats, trolling are spreading all over social media platforms as individuals think they have their right to write whatever they want but they did not know the consequences of this. Many people committed suicide or are in depression because of these threats and body shaming. Many users make groups on social media just to share or plan their wrong activity to everyone else of that category, as an example of “BOYS LOCKER ROOM”, a case where boys of 14-17 of age makes plan to rape their classmates and shares customized pictures of girls to defame them and blackmail them. According to one study of 134,000 abusive comments on social media, 88% were found to occur on the platform Twitter, another 8% occurred on Facebook, and the remainder on various forums and blogs. When a person posts lewd comments on social media, they are liable under Section 354A IPC and can be punished with one year imprisonment and fine. The provision also covers posting or messaging content related to pornography against the will of a woman and demand or request of sexual favours which, are punishable with three year imprisonment and fine. With the intent to outrage the modesty of a woman, a person posting overtly sexual remarks or pictures or videos filled with sexual innuendos on social media or any gesture or object that a woman can see is covered by Section 509 IPC. The recent amendment made to IPC increased the punishment to three years jail along with fine. The IT Act goes a step ahead and holds persons liable for publishing or transmitting sexually explicit material in electronic form. The first conviction would result in three years imprisonment along with fine extending to Rs. 10 lakh and upon second conviction, a person would be held for seven years jail term along with a similar fine. The law of defamation is mostly used by high-profile persons but in fact it can be used as a shield if a person by visible representations publicises an imputation of a woman with the intention to harm. Section 499 IPC would cover, remarks on social media, obscene images or videos posted for public view. Whoever defames a woman online is liable to two years in jail. These types of users who make their fake profiles just to harass some person gets a punishment of an offence conducted by them.
In the case SHREYA SINGHAL V. UNION OF INDIA,2015. A case which rejuvenated the liberty to speech and expression in the country. The Supreme Court of India invalidated Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000 in its entirety. The Petitioners argued that Section 66A was unconstitutionally vague and its intended protection against annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, or ill-will were beyond the scope of permissible restrictions under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. The Court agreed that the prohibition against the dissemination of information by means of a computer resource or a communication device intended to cause annoyance, inconvenience or insult did not fall within any reasonable exceptions to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. It further found that because the provision failed to define terms, such as inconvenience or annoyance, “a very large amount of protected and innocent speech” could be curtailed and hence its sweep was overly broad and vague.
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 this 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.
“Shreya Singhal v. Union of India” (PDF). supremecourtofindia.nic.in. Retrieved 16 February 2017., AIR 2015 SC 1523, Supreme Court of India.
“Section 66A: Seven instances of alleged abuse on social media”. Indian Express.
Constitution of India-Part III Article 19 Fundamental Rights.
“India: Deadly Threat from Modi’s nationalism”. Reporters Without Borders.
Author: PRATHIT SAREEN
Jims Engineering, Management and Technical Campus School of Law
Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University