The internet was believed to be a free space for a while now until the government started expressing their desire to control it. In a recent ruling by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MEITy), social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram may face a ban if they fail to follow the Intermediary Guidelines.
These guidelines were issued in February 2021, and these social media platforms had around 3 months to comply with these guidelines. The companies are yet to respond to the Intermediary Guidelines. The fate of us Indians on social media hangs in the balance because that’s what the media wants us to think.
No, it won’t be banned. The current situation has led to the rise of a lot of clickbait-y headlines. These headlines do nothing but spread panic among the people. There’s a reason why such stringent “chowkidaari” of Indian social media is not possible. Primarily, these platforms could drag the law enforcers to court to challenge the guidelines because:
These are three primary issues as per my understanding of these guidelines, but there are more problems in banning social media. But what if these issues are resolved, and the social media platforms end up implementing these changes? What happens then?
According to the constitution, India is a democracy. It still is, at least on pen and paper. However, certain powerful people in the Central Government, to consolidate power, are now trying to silence free speech on social media.
Free speech is a right granted to all human beings globally. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) recognises it as a fundamental right. India happens to be one of the nations that are a party to the UDHR. This means, Indian citizens should have access to this right, and it’s the government’s responsibility to see that this right is being protected.
Yet, these powerful individuals within the Central Government, since 2016, have time and again gone to unimaginable lengths to curb this right. You don’t need to be reminded of the instances when people were arrested during the Delhi protests for raising slogans against the atrocities committed by these people and the Central Government.
I don’t need to remind you when comedians Kunal Kamra and Munawar Faruqui were charged for making jokes about these people. Faruqui was even jailed for the same. Likewise, Telugu poet and activist had criminal charges levied against him for raising his voice against the government.
There are way too many incidents that prove that these power-hungry megalomaniacs are trying to quash free speech within the country. So I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that fascism is having a gala time while democracy bleeds on the street.
The answer is simple. The angry young people of today turn to social media to express their displeasure about everything under the sky. Be it their friends or the world-famous chai-wala, everyone turns to the internet. And the only way to curb these critics would be by introducing “Compliance Officers” to check who’s saying what on the internet.
There exists no mechanism for the common mass to raise their voices, truth be told. These people and their spokespersons are quick to term anyone who protests as anti-national. The only time when the masses actually get to raise their voice is during the elections.
But then again, it’s the media that controls the elections these days. Unfortunately, reporting is done in such a way that we’re swayed in favour of a particular political party. This plan, if implemented, will be a severe blow to the very foundation of our democracy.
Ironically, back in May 2018, there was a tweet from a very prominent figure who said, and I quote, “I want this government to be criticised. Criticism makes democracy strong.”
Maybe he believes that criticism isn’t necessary anymore and hence has decided that this should be how the internet should be handled. It’s hypocritical of this country to call out China and North Korea for trying to suppress free speech and then go on to do the same within their own borders.
The social media companies have asked for 6 months before taking any decision regarding the same. The only social media platform to comply with these demands happens to be “Koo”, but no one cares about them.
You might be surprised to see me not name anyone. But, honestly, I don’t need to because I believe some smart people visit this platform. And if you have a problem with it, that’s because you know who I’m talking about. And deep down, you accept that they’re megalomaniacs too.
By Amitesh Dhar