Social media, as a platform in public space, have been dominating every domain of the lives of all human beings regardless of age, gender and country. It is a platform and medium for diverse activities from expression of personality to political emancipation. But it is also host to perversions ranging from ethical eavesdropping to cyber crimes. And now the highest court of the country has observed that current laws are not enough to check the harmful activities in this complex 'cyber' world and to punish those who misuse it.
The two-judge bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose, who commented that urgent steps are necessary to get at the source of cyber crimes and fake news, directed the central government to issue guidelines to social media platforms to check their misuse. The order also asks for a balance to be maintained with regard to privacy in the cyber space and sovereignty of the country, and also warns that the concern should be about the country, not internet.
The apex court's directions to the Centre to formulate guidelines came during the hearing of a petition by Facebook demanding to transfer to the Supreme Court all the cases that are before several high courts seeking to link social media accounts to Aadhaar. The stance of several states is that in order to trace individuals and prevent cyber crimes, it is imperative to link social media to Aadhaar.
During the hearing of the petition earlier, Attorney General KK Venugopal argued in the Supreme Court that for preventing terrorism and to stop dangerous cyber games, linking accounts to Aadhaar was essential. However, Facebook and Whatsapp raise the counter argument that AG's position is in contradiction with the Supreme Court judgement that made privacy a fundamental right. Thus the case presents an interesting line up of digital platform provides pitting themselves on the side of privacy and democratic governments standing on the side of controls and tapping of citizens' data.
The 'e-world' of new media is a mixed bag of good and bad. The Arab spring and Greta Thunberg's climate activism convince us that they have the power to overturn well-entrenched systems and to create a new world. After all, it was when social media became the megaphone of dissident voices pierecing the iron curtain of governments, that the world order regained its youth. For the same reason, governments spare no effort to control social media in different ways and to bring them to their line. The fact is that India, like autocratic countries, wishes to snatch the fundamental right of individuals and become a 'snooping country'.
Last year, the central communication ministry had asked telecom operators and internet service providers (ISP) to suggest ways to deactivate social media applications like Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram in exigencies. But that move of the union government to snoop on citizens and collect data through legal means was stemmed by the Supreme Court through a landmark judgment that privacy is a fundamental right. However, in the new context the central government has got a shot in the arm as a blessing from the highest court.
All the same, the evils transmitted by new media cannot be lost sight of. Social media have come to be political tools to spread racism and hatred. It has become a virtual battlefield where many lost their lives through character assassination campaigns by sick minds. Through use of big data of personal information and with the help of computer algorithms, the personal profile of each netizen is being redefined every day. And the stance of the big entities that determine social media in such matters, is also with them.
Paranjroy Guha Thakurta, who made extensive study of the activities of Facebook in India, says that it shows unusual interest in supporting the politics of sangh parivar. It is a matter to be seen whether the new guidelines suggested by the Supreme Court will have the capabililty to take on such inherent and acquired drawbacks of social media. When it comes to social media, the citizenry is caught between the devil and the deep sea. The moment he loses his vigilance, the government which is bound to become the protector of the citizens on one hand, and the digital platform providers wait for their turn on the other, rush with equal speed to steal all his private data. It will not be an easy tak for the Supreme Court to put an end to this misfortune.