Arrests for Facebook posts should be so last government

To use social media in a progressive way, the new government needs to stop arresting people for expressing their views on the medium

shivangi-narayan

Shivangi Narayan | May 23, 2014



The first reactions to the denial of anticipatory bail of the Facebook user from Goa, Devu Chodankar, would obviously be full of condolences to the death of freedom of expression in India. Come on! Impending arrest for an innocent Facebook post? Really? A harmless, innocent post on a one of the many group pages on a social networking couldn’t mean anything. Of course it is the dawn of the draconian police state in our country.

Such an arguments obviously falsifies the impact social networking, especially Facebook and Twitter, has on people in India. According to the recent statistics, nearly two billion tweets are generated on Twitter in India. Of the one billion active users on Facebook, the majority come from India. 150 millions are connected to Internet of the broadband/leased line variety. The others are connected via their phones. 

All said and done, the argument that harmless posts on harmless social networking don’t do any harm, well, stand no ground. The recent elections and the role of social networking in influencing voters clearly says that people are talking as well as listening on social networking.

The arguments about personal liberties on the virtual space, such as those of Devu Chodankar, should thus not be that the chatter on the space doesn’t reach anyone. But, that it reaches everywhere and thus, policing is going to be a lost case from the beginning.

If the above statistics tells us anything, it is that if the government starts arresting everyone guilty of an innocuous post on social media, it is going to run out of resources. Which is the least bothersome aspect of it. While we can hire more police personals to do the job, curbing real dissent is a different ballgame altogether. People are fiercely protective about their rights on the Internet and it goes right down to the last connected person on the planet. Nothing can work worse for democracy than dissent which has such deep roots.

The new government thus has a huge responsibility to understand the Internet, especially social media and freedoms and liberties of common people attached on it. While the present government has established that it would use the medium to be transparent to people, it needs to understand that the communication needs to be two-way. The views on social media don’t just need an arrest warrant but an objective hearing as views of the people.
For this to happen, the section 66A of the IT ACT needs to be revised and made unvague. While spreading hatred on social media is unacceptable, it is the responsibility of the present government to define what is “spreading hatred” in the first place.  The act needs to define its terms of enactment if the government wants to know what its people think about it. Views of people like Devu Chodankar need to be analysed, not reprimanded.

Good luck to that.

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