The Unruly Free Speech in Social Media

It’s a paradox that every dictator has climbed to power on the ladder of free speech. Herbert Hoover. Social media is a virtual space where people get to express themselves either be a facebook post or a tweet in the twitter or a whatsapp message, they help to show who we are. It provides us with a platform where we can share our interests, views, ideas with a larger audience. It has become an agent of socialization, it has become one-stop shop where we can have recent news, gossips, information, a tool to promote one’s business, sharing ideas etc. Most significantly social media is the healthy and nurturing atmosphere for debates and discussion. At first glance it seems that social media is promoting and providing the free speech and expression, but freedom must not too extended to curtails others freedom. Unlike the real world the people feel that they unrestricted freedom in virtual world, although contents have been monitored but the huge numbers of users makes it difficult to censor every post and remove which are obscene, inciting or hate speech, owing to its failure of censoring social media have turned to a platform for imbibing political ideologies into the minds of the people. Social media provides a huge audience from all spheres and part of the country to promote political campaign goals, promises and information. For instance the U.S Presidential election 2008 was for the first time where social media sites are being used to impact the voters. It worked well for Barack Obama who took the help of facebook to reach out to the young voters. It worked well for him for the exit polls shows that Obama got 70% of the votes of the voters underage of twenty five.[1]

In 2014, we celebrated the unchecked freedom on social media, when section 66A of IT Act was declared unconstitutional, the political parties  exploited this freedom to maneuver their political agenda.In India where political parties can cross any Laxman Rekha, the political parties have created Information Technology cell for their political agenda. The IT cell of the Bhartiya Janta Party which was the brainchild of Pradyut Bora established with the object of creating Voters Resource Management and idea was soon adopted by the Indian National Congress . Now they have turned to use these IT cells to spread their propaganda in the social media sites under the veil of protection of Article 19 1 (a) [2]Which guarantees freedom of speech and expression and the political parties be either right or left wing or seculars have employed a large army of campaigners who abuses, threats, troll, manipulate, and create fake stories for the political party who pays them lavishly for it. Freedom of Expression is one of the most universally recognized and prominent rights in all democratic legal systems. The right to impart and receive information has long been a cornerstone of human rights law, and of democratic theory.  But the same platform which has given voice even to a singular, coerced by the IT cells by threats or by inciting hate other netizens who fell prey to their propaganda.

New Battleground


In the past few years we have witnessed most parties have joined the game and used social media to woo voters, especially targeting the millenials. Politicians have found that they can see and observe the reactions and mood of the public in the real time by sharing posts and information on social media, this has not only helped them to understand the voters better but can widely influence and even radicalize them for their political benefits. Whether it’s the online Islamist radicalization or hate messages on social media during 2016 Rohingya Muslims refugee crises and the political debates have resuscitated on limits of free speech online involving everyone who has leaning towards political parties.  Many political parties have appointed social media campaigners organised as an institution called IT cell to reach out public on digital media platforms. A number of political parties have started creating parodies of their rival parties seek  to influence through fake-user based content masquandering as genuine. What has been more alarming to the threat of democracy is that freedom of speech has been taken for granted in the social and users go on length to give extreme speech.[3] It works by following two step methods: The first is to dehumanize the member who belonged to the other group and the second is to reinforce the morale of the in-group by striking the morale of the out-group.  The local units are also encouraged to build their own content. From serious allegations around paid trolls to casual-jocular naming of an irritating user as a troll, brazen language, “fact-filled” untruths and belligerent tone of exchange have become an everyday reality of online political debates. Extreme speech is proliferating across social media, this new phenomena can be understood inrelation to political slogans to semiotically dominate the opposition. And the social media is easily embracing the easily accessible provocative languages. Currently though, speech is free in India as long as it conforms to a majoritarian perspective furthered by the establishment. Such incessant abuse forces journalist, writers, and a common to keep their mouth shut, making them fearful of the information or the opinion they are sharing which may be controversial and thus expose to online abuse which sometimes have turned to offline due to incitement created in the virtual world. Anyone critisizing the policies of the govt. attaracts the abuse by the internet army guided by the party IT cell having close look, framing strategies for it.

Earlier this year the central government proposed to make “social media analytical tool” thorugh which digitals profiles of the social media users will be created and has been accepted by the government that it was to be used to neutralize the negative sentiments against the government schemes.  As a result, hate speech and its cognates have had a checkered course of protection and restriction both within the domain of state sanctioned institutions and the broader social field.

Virtual Lynching


In social media, language exists in paradoxical form having a written statement but an oral intent. The very same tweet by a political leader if written on a book or given as a statement would have been much more serious than it had been said casually on social media. Not everyone is obliged to such high degree of political correctness, but everyone with a public persona, journalists, communicators and especially political leaders should have care and awareness how their words are being amplified on social media. In order to protect themselves from any kind of criticism for hate speech on social media political parties look for this task to be done by their IT cells. Now the angry mobs on social media waiting to pounce upon their prey have a well defined plan, a deep conspiracy i.e. to win elections at any cost and they have a leader who incites its followers to lynch and silent the one who dare to dissent or question. A lot of noise can be made on social media just by few influencers. These propagandas are carried out through the methods of false news, memes, hash tags, trolling, tweets have become their tools to mobilize the masses. The fake messages have, in many instances turned mobs into zombie thirsty of human blood. Our legal system seems handicapped to tackle these evils. Though some states have made law





This article is authored by Mohammad Asif Iqbal ( B.A.LL.B 3rd Year at Muslim University, Centre Jangipur Murshidabad) & Farha Naaz (L.L.B 2nd Year at Faculty of Law, Delhi University)

Also Read – Social Media- A Two Edge Knife


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