Social Media : Need for Regulation .… in words of a Bureaucrat

Mithileshwar Thakur_IRS ME_indianbureaucracy_Data Security
Mithileshwar Thakur_IRS ME_indianbureaucracy_Data Security

Every other day we do come across plethora of incidents of abuse of social media platforms by mischievous elements with malicious intentions. There is enormous abuse of the internet, particularly social media. Of late, there has unfortunately been a surge in such abuse on social networking websites through propagation of falsehood, defamation ,  character assassination and even extremism . Angry & abusive comments routinely continue to feed the trolls. False perception and mistaken belief of unlimited freedom of expression and the thrill and excitement of instant transmission of message, mostly among immature juvenile ones, make the matter worse .  With no visible censorship, regulation, control and monitoring there is very often a tendency among social media users to go berserk, even at the slightest of provocation. Bogus / fake accounts abound in the social media to escape the eagle eye of cyber sleuths and cyber crime control agencies on the illegal and illegitimate activities performed clandestinely.

Making obnoxious, derogatory and defamatory remark on the web without carrying out even minimum due-diligence in regard to the veracity and authenticity of the information is nothing short of blasphemy.  This brings us to the question :  whether the prevailing “free for all” scenario be allowed to continue unhindered and unpunished or some kind of regulatory mechanism be put into place. Whether too much of cyber-policing not lead to encroachment on individual freedom of expression?  Won’t such a move be perceived as an attack on democratic principles and liberty?

To appreciate the enormity of the challenge that lies in regulating the social networking sites it is necessary to understand how and in what way is social media different from the conventional media . Social media quite unlike conventional media does not deal with the distribution of information through a predefined conventional mode .  The uniqueness of social media has changed the rules of the game . Now everyone has a broadcast channel. Rather, everyone now is a channel itself . Every soul on the social networking site is a content developer, a script writer, an author and an editor. Millions of such self-styled authors have been thrown into the vast ocean of cyberspace to share their pearls of wisdom with the rest of the world.  The result is the phenomenon of having 24×7  news without newspapers, round-the-clock online journalism without journalists. This makes the task of regulation and keeping vigil on the activities much more difficult.

Nonetheless, few would disagree that there is certainly a need for supervision of social media and to have some control on the content and/or conversation. The only caveat is that it need not be overdone and that it should not amount to intruding into someone’s right to privacy. The real challenge is to strike a fine balance between the two .  Next issue is what to control : the channel or the means of distribution . We should try and attempt to answer these questions .

 SELF REGULATION:

Social media is not meant to be a tool to carry out any malicious and vicious campaign against any individual / religion/ belief/community / group . Nor is it meant to settle personal scores. Strongest of criticisms and disagreements can be expressed in the most polite manner. But, all said and done , the behaviour in the social media cannot be viewed in isolation . It is only a reflection of the general behavioural pattern .  A self-imposed code of conduct, norm and social media ethic thus is the best way to tackle this menace . There is no need to stay connected 24×7 with social media . We must try to engage with our children and spend quality time with them to create a positive and meaningful influence on their lives .  That can help a great deal in bringing them back to the real world , away from the cyber space . Needless to mention , it would require quite a bit of self-disciplining on the part of elders too .

GLOBAL TREND:

Till the time  adequate self-regulatory systems , processes and mechanisms are not built into social media networks to inspire the confidence of govts. to allow things to run in auto-pilot-mode ,  it is only natural that agencies of the government will need to step in to bring some semblance of order or discipline .

Some governments across the globe have seriously started believing that internet supervision is imminent and unavoidable. They are planning to put in place laws that protect internet users without infringing upon  their privacy.  Their concept of regulation is not about snooping on people’s communication but only about protecting people. On the other extreme is countries like China which has gone to great lengths to protect the integrity of the internet.   China has gone to the extent of developing its own social networking sites. Sina Weibo, the equivalent of Twitter, is one of the most popular networks in China.

It cannot be denied that it is in the interest of every country to protect the integrity of the internet so that it continues to remain a tool for development, not a tool for destruction.

THE STATE OF GOVERNMENT REGULATION IN  INDIA :

Absence of law for regulating social media has not been an issue in India.   While our laws may not be as draconian as that of China , there are enough and more legal provisions to handle issues of social media abuse effectively .

Creation of fake profile on social networking sites, transmission of offensive messages through an online medium and sending of hoax e-mails are punishable under Section 66A of IT Act 2000. Similarly , publication and/or transmission of obscene material in electronic form on social networking sites should fall  under the purview of Section 67 of IT Act 2000. Harassment of someone using fake profile on any social networking site is punishable under Sections 66A, 67 of IT Act and Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code. Creation of Online hate community to pass any objectionable remarks against any country, national figures etc is similarly punishable under Section 66A of IT Act and 153A and 153B of the Indian penal Code. Defacement of any website using defamatory or pornographic content also attract Sections 43 and 66 of IT Act . The law in India  is quite clear regarding publications of any material / content on social media. The Information Technology Act, 2000, clearly makes one liable for posting  any incriminating content or material on social media. Mischief makers should also bear in mind that fake profiles don’t help in the long run and that any illegal or criminal activity done on social media leaves an indelible electronic footprint or trail which can easily be used for the purposes of identifying the real culprit hiding behind a fake identity or profile .

However, in order to use these laws efficiently and effectively, the cyber crime cells of most of the state governments need urgent technological upgrade . Some of  state governments , particularly Karnataka  , has made commendable progress and other states only need to replicate these  practices . Archaic and outdated methods of crime control can only be recipe for disaster .

BEYOND THE REGULATIONS:

Role of any government does not end with enforcement of law alone .Cyber crime can be effectively prevented through active and alert vigilance mechanism. Introducing cyber world ethics in the curriculum too at school level  can prove to be an excellent initiative.  Social awareness should also be created by the government through media campaigns and public debate on this all important issue in coordination with agencies like NASSCOM, Data Security council of India .All the leading national law schools should also be asked to conduct training programmes on Cyber laws & Cyber crimes. The role of the government in all these efforts should be that of a change agent.

With all these technological, social and legal interventions in a concerted and comprehensive manner it should not be difficult to overcome this burning problem of contemporary society .

About the Author: Shri Mithileshwar Thakur is presently posted as Additional Director General in the Directorate of Anti Dumping and Allied Duties at New Delhi and the views expressed are his own. Shri Thakur is a Gold Medallist in B. Tech (Mechanical Engineering) and recipient of merit scholarship and topper of university /board at all levels.

Prior to joining Indian Civil Service, he has worked as member of IRS in Indian Railways and as Engineer in well reputed companies like NTPC, Tata Motors and Tata Steel. He has served as visiting faculty to many reputed institutions like IIT, Kharagpur; National Academy of Customs, Excise and Narcotics; Indian Institute of Foreign Trade; RBI officers ‘Training Institute ; Narsee Monjee Institute of Management to name a few. . His areas of interest also include Intellectual Property Right issues, Cyber laws , regularly contributes to the reputed magazines and newspapers.  He has presided over many functions and seminars organised by reputed Chambers of Commerce & Industry like FICCI, CII, FIEO, Indian Chamber of Commerce etc. He had been Government nominated member of the working group set up by the Govt for Local Currency Trade. He has also been a Key Speaker and panellist in many important forums and has also represented the Government outside India on important platforms.

1 Comment

  1. The article is an timely eye opener for the government,public in general and social media users in particular.What is needed appropriate steps both long term like inclusion in school curriculum to immediate regulation.The article provides an excellent analysis taking into account the reality, prevailing regulations and needs of more required action in this regard.

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