Much has been made in recent days about the confrontation between the government of India and the ubiquitous social media platforms that permeate our life, especially Twitter.
The recent decision by the Government of India to bring these platforms under the ambit of the Indian IT laws has been decried by far-left bleeding-heart liberals as an attack on ‘freedom of speech’. At best, this is convoluted reasoning, because ‘freedom of speech’ is not an inalienable right. The same Article 19 that enshrines it in our constitution explicitly lays down the condition that this freedom is subject to its effect on public order.
With the spread of the internet, social media has come of age. Today it is not an innocent way of keeping in touch with family and friends but, in the wrong hands, a very effective weapon that can effect elections, incite mass violence, subvert governments and mislead entire populations through rumour and fake news.Consider this very specific situation.
On 16th June, a terrorist was gunned down by security forces at Wagoora Nowgam, on the outskirts of Srinagar. A day later, a twitter account @SanaNazki started tweeting a message that the owner of a particular pharmacy was the informant whose inputs to the Army led to the encounter. The account is an obvious fake account. It has nothing on its timeline except this single message copypasted as a reply to many accounts, mostly those of separatists, anti-India press entities and Kashmiri diaspora with malignant hatred for India. It is also factually incorrect in its assumption that the pharmacy owner is an informant of Indian Army (sic).
The encounter in question was not an Army operation at all, it was conducted exclusively by the J&K Police and the CRPF.In the current environment on the valley, this is essentially a kill order.
It’s not far-fetched to think that this pharmacy owner may well be attacked in subsequent days and labelled a ‘Mukhbir’ as a justification for the attack.
For all we know, someone with a personal grudge, or maybe a business rival, can randomly put out such unsubstantiated information, painting a target on the back of innocent citizens. It could even be a terrorist operated handle, pre-justifying an attack on someone who has refused to ‘pay up’ an extortion demand.
Now, can anyone in their right mind justify this as ‘freedom of expression’ or ‘free speech’?
There is no question that Twitter has to cooperate with law enforcement agencies to ensure that such accounts are not just suspended, but actively traced back to their real owners who assume the cloak of anonymity and seek to spread hatred and chaos in the community. And this cooperation cannot be left to the whims and fancies of ‘Twitter Rules’ which are subject to no oversight in the country that provides it with its third largest userbase at 18 million users. No amount of woke theories on the greater good will provide solace to real human beings killed and maimed as a result of nefarious elements using the platform for breakdown of the rule of law, and this needs to be clearly understood by elements who pursue these ideologies for cheap popularity among foreign intelligentsia.
There is the narrative that ‘government’ in India is an entity subject to narrow political considerations, and the same law can be used to harass or silence those espousing views that oppose those in power. This can be no excuse to not enforce the law! There is an independent Judiciary to take care of such contingencies, and it has proved itself to be robust and impartial in recent times. This much is obvious, ironically, by the criticism it draws from both extremes of the political spectrum.
We live in a democracy. By definition, it is an imperfect system, but it has no alternatives. Law must be supreme, and take priority over individual liberties. If it doesn’t, we have Anarchy.
It is heartening to note that the Police has taken quick cognisance of the dangers of such misuse of social media and was able to arrest the perpetrator of the threat in a short time.
Written by.. Asrar Shirazi