Social Media: Tame it… or not?

Published August 29, 2012 by vishalvkale

Article in The Times Of India of 30th August…

Article in The HIndustan Times 29th August

To be or not to be… that is the question. 
Tame social media… or let it free? That is the big discussion that is acquiring increasing media attention worldwide. In India, the recent banning of a few sites by the GOI has got everyone up in protest… is it justified? Or did the government over-react? I am myself totally against needless control on Media, as it is one of the most powerful tools in a functioning democracy. An independent Media is a pre-requisite to a good democracy, for it is only through Media that leaders can reach the people most effectively. Secondly, it is only through Media that governmental excesses, views that run counter to the official view, opposition viewpoints etc can be highlighted. This acts as a form on control on the political process, and hence is indispensable in any free society. But there are many scenarios under which this does not and should not apply. 
This does not apply under national security threats, when it is conceivable that some news might need to be withheld for security concerns. That also should not apply to Social Media as well under similar circumstances. If normal Media can be constrained so as to prevent inflammatory news reaching the public, it stands to reason that Social Media should be constrained as well. We live in an orderly society wherein laws are paramount – and allowing a Medium run to amok, free and uncensored is an invitation for trouble with a capital T. Any situation, thing or person that has no control over it has a tendency to be misused – and there are innumerable examples of this. Especially with regard to social media, one should keep in mind its distinguishing characteristics:
 1. The time concept. The newspapers have a 1-day periodicity: it takes time for news to spread. TV is instant, but does not spread through mobiles etc; Social media is instant, rapid and spreads like a wildfire. It takes less than 5 minutes for a news to spread: a speed which no law enforcement can hope to match
2. The absence of censorship: All media have some built in checks and balances, as well as laws that can be used to punish if they go above board. This is conspicuous by its absence in Social Media: anyone can post anything. That means potentially inflammatory news gets censored or watered down in normal media – even in their online editions; whereas it just spreads through social media
3. Legal responsibilities and the fixation of accountability mean that there is little chance of news getting doctored; again this is absent in social media which has no accountability – which also goes against the grain of a functioning democracy! A democracy also means accountability – it does not just mean freedom!
4. Interactive nature of social media also makes it deadly dangerous in inflammatory situations, especially given the above 3 characteristics. This is so since lack of control, the time factor and lack of accountability together mean that images, news can be easily distorted and spread… which is what happened
5. The scope: a localised problem can be contained by simple measures – but social media is worldwide… the problem can spread, and acquire massive proportions, as well as get inflamed out of all proportion
6. It has the potential of individual targeting (as well as effective group targeting) of the people
All in all, under situations wherein the security of the nation or its citizens is compromised, there is actually a crying need for social media to be controlled. There is no control on it; hence it can be used with deadly effect to reach the less aware people and inflame passions, which will lead to a much bigger problem than before. Social Media does need control: we live in a ordered society! There has to be some level of control, some laws that can be applied. And social media is also a media: with one major difference. While in normal media, the source is verifiable and known… in social media that is not always the case.  And remember: democracy does not mean freedom alone. It also implies duties and responsibilities. Bear in mind that twice in recent memories have revolutions been sparked by reaching people through social media. While those examples were positive, it stands to reason that the reverse will also be true! Full Marks to the GOI for acting boldly! Well Done! Keep It Up!
But that does not mean that the protests are out of place: the protests against control will ensure that the Government of the day does not go too far… in classic democratic fashion! So, Well Done, Media! Keep It Up!

. “Freedom of expression, like all other freedoms under Article 19, is subject to reasonable restrictions. An action tending to violate another person’s right to life guaranteed under Article 21 or putting national security in jeopardy can never be justified by taking the plea of freedom of speech and expression,” the supreme court bench said on 29th August 2012. Need I say more?

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