The net is dead, long live the net. Block one website; hundred others may be born almost instantly. Like an enraged Cyclops playing whac-a-mole, the government, in a bid to combat rumour-mongering and hatespeak, even blocked parody Twitter accounts of the prime minister. Satire is clearly lost on the home and IT ministries for whom social media has become the new enemy. It is the target of antediluvian bureaucratic suspicion; authoritarian politicians are busily spotting Maoists in online cartoons.
Social media is not the enemy. It is simply an amoral technology, a busy highway, waiting to be used by all. If dissenters and propagandists are using Twitter to spread their message, then the government must also jump in and use social media to fight the information war. Twitter has created an entirely new world where public figures are no longer distant idols but readily accessible. Barack Obama’s massively successful Twitter campaign reveals how well politicians can use new media.
Hatespeak on social media, not social media itself, is the real enemy of a liberal democracy. Hate speech cannot be dressed up as free speech. Free speech is the right to canvass for a political cause, the right to criticise the government. Governed by Art 19 of the Constitution, it’s a legally defined freedom. Free speech is not the right to say what you want. If social media is a gigantic public highway, all those using it must not only follow rules but also accept the inevitability of some surveillance.
A deluge of profane language, abuse of religious icons and vicious attacks on minorities are the hallmarks of Twitter and Facebook in India. Twitter in India, almost completely dominated by right-wing religious nationalism, has been called a “hate factory”, a forum to vent foul-mouthed loathing not only of public figures but of minorities and those perceived as ‘pseudo-secular’ or ‘sickular’. The role of rumour in a riot has been established by many historians. The role of creating the religious ‘enemy’ is another potent force in creating religious polarisation. If social media becomes a tool in the hand of a communal rioter, then the government has every right to enforce the law, and absolute freedom must take second place to protection of life and liberty.
Untrammelled licence makes freedom meaningless. In India, if freedom is interpreted as the majority’s right to call the Prophet or Jesus outrageous names, then our harmony will descend to anarchy and only fascism will be seen as deliverance. Violent action is just a step away from violent thought. Terrorist chatter on the net is routinely monitored across the world; hate chatter must be monitored too.
As a television journalist, I get a daily dose of abuse on Twitter, an exercise in character-building endurance. Some examples: “Bitch, you deserve to be stripped and raped publicly.” “Randi ki aulad maadar.... why u r not covering assam riots, mulloh ne ma ch..i hai kya behan..... Dalli saali Rahul ki.” In fact, I and other women journalists on Twitter regularly receive threats of sexual assault, showing that on Twitter, criminals do not fear the law. Self-professed supporters of Narendra Modi and Subramanian Swamy specialise in abusing what they call “paid media”. For them, “whore”, “bitch”, “Congress pimp”, “Muslim-loving whore”, “Congress-funded media” are all in a day’s work. While abusing journalists is a far lesser evil than abusing religious minorities, the daily invective and defamation by hundreds of Twitter handles speaks of an organised campaign.
In the mainstream media, we constantly debate the limits of regulation. The NBSA, the watchdog body for electronic news media of which I’m a member, advocates a firm “no” to censorship but “yes” to responsible content. Retired CJI J.S. Verma, who presides over the NBSA, says irresponsible content, straining the limits of legality, will only bring down the heavy hand of government censorship and jeopardise a precious freedom. Be responsible and free, not lawless and thus censored. Currently, any talk of regulation on social media is met by howls about free speech. Twitter and Facebook respond fast to “take down” notices by peer review. But they say they cannot pre-screen content.
Pre-screening and censorship will indeed mean the loss of a precious new media. But that alone cannot be reason enough not to intelligently track hate speech. Who defines hate speech? No, it can’t be the NKVD-minded folk in Shastri Bhavan who believe the state knows best. What is needed is for social media stakeholders, legal experts and government to come together and create a detailed code of hate speech and the punishment each offence will carry. In some cases FIRs must be registered and convictions must happen.
The social media footprint of a potential homegrown Anders Breivik, Norway’s right-wing mass killer, must attract the law’s attention. Arbitrary censorship is terrible; abuse of freedom, even worse.
CNN-IBN deputy editor @sagarikaghose is author of Blind Faith.
Apropos of Netiquette, not Censorship (Sep 10) by your guest writer Sagarika Ghose, the relative anonymity offered by social media offers the normally intellectually comatose patient an outlet to vent his confused ire against perceived ‘opponents’. To quote Cicero, “When you have no basis for an argument, just abuse the plaintiff.”
Vispi Kaikobad, Mumbai
Introspect, lady, there must have been something in your coverage that elicits such hatred. Perhaps all the provocation, like tweeting about Lord Ram being “a divine encroacher” (which you deleted quickly, but alas too late!) had something to do with it.
They don’t call it unparliamentary language for nothing. To expect the people to behave at a time when our rulers use the vilest language and means to hang on to power is a bit rich. I expected a bit more incisive analysis from the author.
Brajesh Choudhary, Delhi
In these days of social media, some lines will get blurred. Take it in the right spirit.
Mahesh Babbar, Delhi
You can choose not to read those tweets like many who choose not to follow what you call news. Isn’t the standard line you adopt for others applicable to you too?
Ankush Poddar, Calcutta
A recent research article suggested that people with low IQ are more prone to right-wing views but I would say a biased liberal view with an inability to discern the nation’s sentiments and its roots perhaps requires even less effort.
Those who live in glass houses, Ms Ghose, should not throw stones at others.
Useless piece. My Ghose, what creatures we produce!
Harish Vidya, London
Well, maybe our netizens are influenced by our news anchors, the same who won’t let their panelists talk for they keep interrupting and screeching. The dumbing down starts from there.
R. Saroja, Mumbai
This is what happens when you live in a bubble, away from reality. Until one fine morning, you find yourself among the masses...exposed.
Hate speech is also part of free speech. The test is always when there is something vile being said and how we react to it. Otherwise, everyone claims free speech in theory, even the worst despots and dictators.
Arun Maheshwari, Bangalore
Sagarika, science is tough/And your voice is rough/You shout on the TV screen as if you are in a trough/Join the political slough/Your shouting will get the right puff/You are worst among the best/The worst we do not trust.
Using abusive language is bad, abusing your freedoms is worse. But the lowest possible action is abusing the trust people place in you. Spin doctors like the author represent the worst offenders in this case.
Ashutosh Kaul, Toronto
Ms Ghose deserves every abuse that she gets.
A. Alagappan, Chennai
Don’t play victim now when for over a decade you’ve been victimising the nationalists.
Ms Ghose was living in an ivory tower, where she dons make-up and mouths platitudes every evening, where she could cloak her biases as intellectual babble. Social media has broken that myth and she can’t take it.
Kiran Bagachi, Mumbai
Perhaps this is a sign, an inner voice telling her that shouting and talking inane stuff day in and day out, wining and dining with the elite does not make you a great journalist.
///3) Just because the otherside does not play by the rules is no justification for one not to play the by the rules. Two wrongs do not make a right.///
If a rule breaker is attacked in his own language, one should not support him. One of the reasons for rampant corruption up to 2year before is people never attacked/criticized them rather admired their posh lives. We should not repeat our mistakes time and again and make such threats to the integrity and unity of nation behave properly and for this one can use a way as one wants (barring physical assault).
@ Whats in a name - Sonia Gandhi did not study beyond high school, Rahul Gandhi - M Phil (god knows how)
The points to ponder are
1) What do they hope achieve by using gutter language? That the target will fall in line! That the target will just vansih from the scene! That they have shown their opponents their places! That it will pay electoral dividends to the ideology they support!
2) By being foul-mouthed and targeting the messenger and not the content - they only show from where they are coming from, expressing their anger and desperately trying to be defend the indefensible - wrongly as it turns out.
3) Just because the otherside does not play by the rules is no justification for one not to play the by the rules. Two wrongs do not make a right.
4) By all means protest and oppose, but can't it be done in a civilised manner? Is that too much to ask?
Sagarika mocked Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam as "Bomb Daddy"
Sagarika mocked Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam as "Bomb Daddy"
Thanks for the link Kiran. Had a good laugh on reading it.
Sagarika comes off as extremely petty, and extraordinarily stupid. Someone with extremely low intellect, who would have had trouble with Maths and Science through out middle school, and possibly earned the ridicule and wrath of her teachers and peers. Probably explains her aversion to both Science and logic.
But let's play the game she is trying a little. She mentioned a long list of people who studied Science, mostly from the Parivar. Wonder why she missed out one of her pet hate figures, who otherwise features prominently in the article. Let's see
Modi: Studied Political Science
Hitler and Mussolini: Didn't find details on the courses they studied (probably didn't get much formal education after a while), they certainly didn't study Science. Mostly religion, philosophy, etc. You know the "soft Humanities subjects"
Zia Ul-Haq: History
Bhutto: He of the "we shall eat grass, but have nuclear bomb" fame. Political Science
ND Tiwari: Who decides to turn Raj Bhavans into pleasure houses, and then runs away from not only his responsibilities, but even basic human decency: Political Science
Skirt chasing Nehru: Law
Maun Maun "Resident of Assam and biggest looter in the country" Singh: Economics
Saddam Hussein: Law
Wonder if she wants to create such a list for non-Science group. She can include herself in the hall of shame.
If Hindutvavadis alone are wrong then I agree with you,The history is the proof of what happened to this country when Hindutvavadis were not there nor such ideology was in existence but the forces reprsenting what you call as the other side or the detractors and enemies of Hindus havent changed a bit as can be seen from whats happening across the regions populated by them.Protesting against injustice is not hatred.
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