Should Social Media Be Subjected To Check And Control? – OpEd


Even among the most liberal countries in the world which call themselves with pride as vibrant democracies, there is concern about the rapid spread and growth of unchecked social media which have often contributed to motivated campaign and social tensions.

President Trump’s Displeasure

Ever since the recent presidential election campaign commenced in the USA, the then presidential candidate Donald Trump was criticizing media for what he considered as carrying motivated and biased campaign against him. Even after winning the election as President of USA, Trump has continued his anti-media campaign in variety of forums. While there may be many merits and demerits in President Trump, any discerning observer would tend to agree with Trump that the campaign against him by a large section of media in USA has been marked by prejudice and hatred. One gets an impression that the US media has not relented in it’s anti Trump campaign, even after the conclusion of the Presidential poll.

German government’s move to restrict social media

In recent times, Germany has witnessed considerable increase in racist comments in the social media , with the use of anti immigrant language after the arrival of more than one million migrants in Germany, predominantly from Muslim countries since 2015. The influx of massive number of refugees in Germany has certainly upset it’s social structure to some extent ,leading to disturbing conditions of animosity between the immigrants and the natives.

While there are difference of opinions as to whether the German government should have allowed so many immigrants to enter the country, the fact remains that hate campaign against the immigrants have become vigorous , which are freely expressed in the social media. Alarmed at this scenario and anxious to avoid any big social disturbances, German government has thought it fit to impose severe restrictions on the social media companies.

The German government has now taken the unusual step of putting restrictions on the social media , after accusing it of indulging in hate campaign and other extremist messaging on digital platforms. The social media companies operating in Germany now face fine of as much as 57 million USD , if they would not delete illegal, racist or slanderous comments and posts within 24 hours under a new law passed. The law will take effect in the month of October and will apply to social media sites, which together have more than 2 million users in Germany.

While restrictions in social media do exist in several European countries , the law now imposed in Germany is the most stringent anti hate speech law among the western countries.

Concern in India

The social media scenario in India is not much different from countries such as the USA and Germany.

It is evident that the government of India has concerns about the trends in Indian social media, where use of abusive language, caste aspersions and wild allegations without any substantial evidence have become all too common.

While the government of India has taken marginal steps to enforce some discipline amongs social media such as twitter, face book, google which owns YouTube etc. there have been severe criticism and opposition on such measures from the non governmental organisations and some political parties, that have raised questions about freedom of expression. Human rights group argue that such restrictions are against the fundamental rights given to the Indian citizens by the Constitution of India.

Dictatorial regimes have no such problem

Of course, there are dictatorial regimes as in China, some countries in middle east region which have no such problem, as freedom of expression is already severely restricted and people’s personal liberties are subjected to government control.

Divergent views

While the so called human rights activists demand that freedom of expression for people should remain unrestricted in any circumstance, there are also strong opinion among advocates of social discipline, who think that the liberty of individuals cannot be a matter of personal affairs and it should really involve responsible social behavior.

In India, public protests and demonstrations have now become too many and even on trivial matters. The organisers of such protests spread the message with regard to such activities in social media and through whatsapp etc. often spreading hate , motivated and partisan campaign and asking people to come out in protest. Indian media, particularly the visual media ,which are mostly owned by profit oriented business houses , give huge publicity to such demonstrations to get viewership. In the process, violence and unrest spread too fast and the government is unable to control the small group of demonstrators, who surprise the governments with their violent protests , disturbing peace in society.

There is rapidly spreading view in India that the country may be paying too big a price for the unchecked liberty and freedom given to the social media.

Need to balance freedom with responsibility

Taking a holistic view, one would think that unchecked social media give free space to every one and not everyone is tuned to have responsible and disciplined thinking. When the social media become a ready platform for use of abusive slogans and hate campaign, it becomes a negative force with grave consequences to overall society.

Perhaps, the decision of the governments to restrict social media may not be unwarranted, though some people may think as to whether the government run by politicians will be unbiased in punishing the violators. Perhaps, the solution lies in creating an ombudsman for the purpose of ensuring punishment to the violators of law in social media.

N. S. Venkataraman

N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause. To promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

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