Social Media Vs. Government: Who Kills Freedom of Speech Better?

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The political scenario around the world has evolved quite a bit in the last few years. Social media has become a significant force in political campaigns and shaping the public’s opinion. Confirmation bias is one of the underlying processes at play on social media. This is especially true when it comes to sensitive issues, such as politics. Recently, all social media platforms refused to comply with India’s Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

Twitter v/s India 

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has established a new regulatory and supervisory mechanism for social media platforms, which encompasses the requisite to assign a resident grievance officer as part of a wider grievance redressal mechanism, active monitoring of online content, monthly compliance reports for Indian users, self-regulation systems, and an oversight mechanism. 

After a string of events that escalated the government’s dissatisfaction with the social media platform, Twitter became the first US-based social media platform to lose statutory status in India. This means Twitter from now on will be held liable for tweets and data stored on its servers. In addition, it will be editorially liable for the content. Another significant drawback is that if Twitter is charged, it will be subject to any punishment under the law, including the Indian Penal Code.

However, in a recent turn of events, on June 15, 2021, Twitter India appointed an interim chief compliance officer and will share the details soon. According to a Twitter representative, the firm will make an effort to comply with India’s new digital media regulations. Originally, Google, YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram were required to appoint officers by May 25, 2021; however, all companies blamed the delay on the pandemic. Therefore, as per the recent developments, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp remain protected in India.

Facebook v/s European Union

Similarly, Facebook has been subjected to intense scrutiny and sanctions in the European Union. Like Google, Twitter, and Apple, Facebook has its European headquarters in Ireland, putting it under the scrutiny of the Irish data protection authority. Moreover, even though it is not the primary regulator, a national watchdog in the EU has the authority to penalize a firm for violating the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). According to analysts, this decision follows a preliminary judgment from a court adviser and might pave the way for a new wave of privacy cases across the EU’s 27 member states. 

The court’s judgment ends a long legal dispute between Facebook and Belgium’s regulatory body over the case’s jurisdiction, which centered on Facebook’s use of cookies to follow the behavior of internet users. On the other hand, many national watchdogs in the EU’s 27 member states have raised concerns about Ireland’s counterpart, claiming that cases are decided too slowly. Ireland has downplayed this, claiming that dealing with big and well-funded tech firms necessitates extra caution. 

Does India have Internet Free Speech? 

While the coronavirus pandemic continues in India, claiming thousands of lives, many Indians are taking to social media to demand that the government properly tackle the public health disaster. Unfortunately, in the world’s second-most populous country, the government is suppressing these critics in the newest danger to the future of free speech on the internet. India was one of the top countries globally aiming to control online speech even before the latest conflicts between tech companies and the government

India was one of the top five nations that asked Twitter to delete posts from January 1, 2020, to June 1, 2020. In the last few months, the Indian government had asked Twitter to remove content that it claims includes misinformation regarding the Covid-19 crisis in recent weeks. However, critics believe it was the Indian government’s way of suppressing the common public’s opinion.

The internet facilitates a global social interaction network. However, Internet experts and the general public have expressed growing concerns that the content, tone, and aim of online exchanges have evolved in ways that endanger the viability of the medium. Using social media to express oneself has almost reached the rank of “necessity” and “habit.” Every user, no matter how little or large their reach, desires this power. The strength of free speech, fueled by social media, is reaffirmed by ‘viral’ posts, trends, social media mass movements, the emergence of influencers, and celebrity endorsements. However, this could be an issue for social media platforms. 

To strike a balance between providing safe space to the citizens and exercising freedom of speech is a tough goal to achieve. When the government or the courts order to remove content, the disgruntled citizens go to the court to claim their freedom of speech and expression. However, when social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook remove content, unhappy citizens feel powerless; possibly that’s when they realize by being on social media platforms they have consented to compromise on their freedom of speech.

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