February 2: Today, more than 450 million people in the country are using smartphones. Due to this, social networking platforms have become an integral part of human life. The social media platforms have given opportunities to the common man which no one could have imagined a few decades ago. These platforms have become flag bearers of free speech and an integral part of democracy. They have given unimaginable powers to the person standing at the last end of the society to connect with the mainstream of the society and express his views openly. With great power comes great responsibilities. Winds of positive change can be brought in society today through these forums, but unfortunately, they are more in the news for their criticism. Social media, their infringement on privacy and their biased nature have become a big issue.
In fact, in the present times, the role of social media has become to spoil social harmony and promote the thinking that divides the society instead of uniting. Be it Twitter or Facebook, YouTube, or WhatsApp, almost all social media platforms have become a heaven for promoting cyber-bullying. These foreign platforms, which have become a means of spreading fake news and hate speech, are playing a big role in spreading hatred increasing anti-national activities in society. They are pushing society towards a bigger and unseen danger. Not only this, the risk of cyber-crimes like hacking and phishing etc. has also increased through them, as is evident from the following:
1. In the last year, there has been a lot of allegations on Twitter for allegedly promoting anti-India tweets that spread hatred and violence. A petition was also filed in the Supreme Court regarding this. The petition has sought directions from the government to enact a law for social media platforms so that Twitter can be prosecuted for anti-India tweets. One needs to understand that this all did not happen overnight. It is as if a plan of action is underway to gradually tarnish India's image at the global level.
2. Spreading fake news through social media has been a major reason behind the riots in many parts of the country. That’s why governments are compelled to shut down the internet to curb riots. Whether it is the Delhi riots or the case of spreading violence by disturbing the communal atmosphere in Bengaluru, such tasks are carried out under a very careful and well thought out strategy. The fake accounts on Twitter propagate and promote casteism, communalism, regionalism, extremism, and separatism. Intentions are made to break the unity and integrity of the country. These matters are not resolved even after complaints to Twitter.
3. India has been under attack by social media platforms that specifically targeted the Indian civilizational values of VasudhaivaKutumbakam. Hostile countries like China and Pakistan have left no stone unturned to spread anti-India content on social media. Be it the case of a clash with China on the border or the case of blaming India in the false incidents of ceasefire, or the terrorism and human rights violations in Kashmir related to Pakistan.
4. Not long ago, Indian security agencies identified more than a thousand Twitter accounts backed and supported by Khalistani sympathisers &Pakistan. These accounts were trying to malign India’s image by taking advantage of farmers' protests. These shared and disseminated misleading information to the public and provocative remarks about farmers' demonstrations. The trending hashtags and handles reveal that a conspiracy to kill farmers was hatched to incite violence and affect public order. Enemy countries have always tried unsuccessfully to derail the country from the development track by systematically attacking India's secular society, democratic structure, and social harmony. Unregulated social media has given a big boost to their breaking India plans.
6. The research team of Instagram discovered that the Instagram application impacts teens. It leads teenagers into depression and anxiety. These social media platforms claim that they are committed to tracing and removing illegal practices like child pornography, suicide, drugs, extremism, and fake news. But till now, it seems to sound like a mere tokenism with no effort on the ground.
7. Twitter shadow bans and suspends accounts on slightest provocation citing its community standards but terrorist groups like the Taliban tweet without hesitation. Twitter has done nothing to take off their accounts, and these terrorists keep on peddling their terror agenda without any hindrance.
All is not that bad as now the common man is waking up to the ills of foreign social media platforms. People have realised that while using social media to connect with the world, they are compelled to pay the price. They are exposing their personal data, getting addicted and even risking national security. As we head towards another year, selfies and new year messages are shared widely. Another year will bring some new protests, and their online support groups will be created; signature campaigns and trending hashtags will lend support to the protests. But there will also be voices protesting the protests. Social media should not decide the moral and legal aspects of any protest. They should act as a neutral medium. Hopefully, this year terrorists will be banned from Twitter, and no victim will be punished for asking for help. Hopefully, WhatsApp will not infringe our privacy, and YouTube will not shadowban a video for exposing the truth about forced conversions. Hopefully, in 2022 social media will be a better and more neutral place.
Apurva Agarwal is a well-known lawyer, founding partner of Universal Legal and angel investor. He is an expert on socio-political and economic issues. An alumnus of NLS Banglore, he also pioneered social projects as the president of Rotary Club of Mumbai Nariman Point