This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Mahika Shergill. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Is There Any Freedom Of Expression Left In Social Media?

Growing up, I remember watching an advertisement on television, over and over again, never tiring of it. This simple ad for a telecom company left its mark on me—in a remote village in India, a group of children huddled around a small phone, their eager faces staring at the screen. Miles away from any institution, this phone had become their teacher, classroom, and school all in one. As a child, I vividly recall the gooseflesh I had every single time I saw the power of the internet reaching anywhere and everywhere. An idea can indeed change your life! 

All those years ago, the internet was built with the aspiration and inspiration to democratize society—social media platforms were created to bridge the gap between the millions of disenfranchised people whose voices were lost in the crowd. Social media aimed to be the way through which disempowered people could make their voices heard and speak out about anything and everything. If you had something to say, you could say it—the internet would make sure of that.

google search on a phone or tablet
Representational Image. The internet provides many positive opportunities to people all over the world.

If you needed to know something, the information could reach you and no power could stop it.  While the concept of “free speech” had existed for centuries and was an integral part of our society, it was this platform that truly redefined what it meant. At its core, the internet was built for free expression.

Has This Tool Put The Power Into The Wrong Hands?

Many will argue otherwise, stating that social media is as much the place for free expression, maybe even more so than it used to be decades ago. But I can prove otherwise.

For any number of free-thinking people on social media, there are much more organized bunch of haters that are targeting, silencing, out shouting, and bullying anyone they disagree with. Social media platforms have become an organized vehicle for violence. In the garb of free speech and expression, organizations and people hidden behind their screens have weaponized the power of platforms and harnessed it to their advantage. There is an invasion of troll armies, whose sole purpose is to bully their opponents, spread misinformation, and post fake messages—all for a little “pocket change.”

Entire organizations of trolls impersonating regular people on the internet, like you and me, cash in on their services, every minute of every day. Our screens are powerful tools for good until they start serving as platforms for those faceless trolls spewing words of hate. The metamorphosis of free expression on social media has truly been terrifying—from a platform of liberation to a platform of oppression.

Representational Image. Faceless social media trolls bully and spread misinformation for “pocket change”.

And where there was an opportunity to encash, the hungry tech corporations moved in with their algorithms that changed the game entirely. Algorithms and AI have ensured that we are monitored and mapped and what we like and who we follow is fed to us over and over again. Little by little, we have walled ourselves into an echo chamber of similar thoughts and views. These power-hungry bots have successfully manipulated the backends of all our favorite social media apps and subconsciously altered and influenced us in ways we cannot fathom.

From fake likes, shares, comments, and retweets, the social media algorithm ensures that the same piece of content appears for millions and entire business models of tech companies run on using these algorithms to generate more data and revenue. Elections have been won, fake news has been popularized, and violent agendas have been pushed on the back of this. Gone are the days of the internet being a platform to democratize debate and showcase every viewpoint. Algorithmic manipulation has officially taken over.

But worse is when the violence in the virtual world spills into the real one. In May 2017 in India, a chain of shocking messages circulated on Whatsapp, the popular messaging platform. These texts pointed at several members in local communities, and called them out for heinous crimes, like child abduction and organ harvesting. Spreading like wildfire, soon these weren’t just a series of messages anymore. They had become reality. Dozens of lynchings around the country took place, with innocent citizens being targeted, all because of simple social media interactions. A false rumor had cost countless lives.

In a study conducted by Gabriel Weimann, a renowned Professor of Communications and Terrorism expert, Weimann found that nearly 90% of organized terrorism activities took place via social media. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and internet forums were used to spread their messages to recruit members and gather intelligence. ISIS has utilized more than 100 sites to spread its message—from videos of beheadings to threats, their social media presence is truly horrifying. Countless other groups such as Al Qaeda and Boko Haram have used these platforms for the sole purpose of radicalization.

Can We Take Social Media Back?

But how can we ensure that the freedoms of social media are not misused? There are no easy answers to this tech and social conundrum, but we can begin by the creation of a set of standards or regulations that the tech giants have to sign up for. Governments all over the world can agree to enforce basic common policy changes at a global level to ensure that the internet does not become a tool of money, power, and manipulation.  Another significant angle on this is community moderation. UN Special Advisor David Kaye proposes the involvement of communities, nonprofits, and social organizations to bring in transparency and the application of fundamental human rights as a standard on the Internet.

What this translates in terms of actionables would be a good discussion and debate to have on these very platforms. Controlling large groups of people on social media isn’t a viable option but small efforts can go a long way in the creation of a true marketplace of ideas.

Ultimately, social media is a value-neutral tool. How we use it influences the value it brings to us. If the voices of hate are allowed to harness the power of social media, the result is violence. And if it is used for the greater common good, we can even write the constitution of a country together. Iceland has shown us the way.

You must be to comment.

More from Mahika Shergill

Similar Posts

By Taushif Patel

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

By Arafat Hossain

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below