The Union Communications and IT Minister Kapil Sibal asked internet giants such as Facebook, Google and Yahoo to screen derogatory, defamatory and inflammatory content about political leaders and religious sentiments. Mr. Sibal suggested that the content uploaded by over 100 million internet users in India be pre-screened and removed if found objectionable. And by ‘screening’ the minister meant manual screening and not screening by technology.
As a social media service provider, since our very business is based upon this medium, it is imperative that we hold a strong opinion against such a proposition by the Minister which is both unconstitutional and technically impossible. However this post is not just about Mr. Sibal’s proposition to control social media but also the backlash that followed on the Indian social media scene which we think went slightly over board. I would be writing a full story on this for Global Voices Online here I am just conveying my personal opinion on the matter.
It is agreed that Mr. Sibal’s proposition was unconstitutional because as long as the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression is available to us under the Constitution any attempt to ‘pre-screen’ our voices, thoughts, speech, expression would be a violation of that right. Sure, no right is absolute, every right comes with reasonable restrictions, but in this case, these restrictions cannot be imposed even before the right is exercised. Where the voices, thoughts and expressions of a person is found offensive, derogatory, inflammatory, defamatory or whatever have you, the person would be liable under the Constitution to be prosecuted. But no law can possibly control what we say before we have actually said it. They cannot control what we are going to post on Facebook or Twitter assuming it might be offensive. Therefore ‘pre-screening’ is totally against the constitution given the technical impossibility.
That said, it is just as much unconstitutional or at the least, uncivilized, unethical and immature on the part of Indian social media users to call him an “Idiot” and to hurl him with other abuses and insults no matter how much you disagree with him/her. A popular Blogger on the political blog Kafila urged everybody to raise the slogan “Kapil Sibal is an Idiot”
I urge you to write KAPIL SIBAL IS AN IDIOT as your Facebook status message, use the hashtag #IdiotKapilSibal on Twitter, and write a blog post with the above title, because there may soon be a day when he may prevent you from doing so.
And hundreds and thousands of bloggers did so. They called Mr. Kapil Sibal an Idiot on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and every other social networking sites. They also made and floated thousands of sarcastic photo-shopped images, humorous videos, jokes to scale up the insults. They didn’t think before doing or saying. And this was pretty much the same people who applauded Mr. Sibal few months back when he had launched the Akash Tablet, the world’s cheapest Tablet.
Social Media is the digital equivalent of word of mouth communication. A social media furore is the digital equivalent of an angry mob in a riot situation. A powerful blogger urging thousands and thousands of the citizens to call another fellow citizen ‘Idiot’ thereby instigating them to insult and ridicule a person is the digital equivalent of a local leader instigating a mob to take to violence. Once instigated the mob doesn’t know where to stop. Murder, rape, loot and plunder then follows.
If a certain move by the Government is unacceptable the citizens must raise their voices against it, but the voices should be civilized, ethical, logical and rational even when the medium is internet. If social media voices and citizen journalism is to be taken seriously the users must show the same maturity and responsibility as traditional media players and professional journalists.