In a recent development, the UPA government has once again raised the matter of regulating and removing provocative, abusive and communal content from social media, especially sites like Facebook Google and Youtube.(1) Indian home secretary RK Singh has raised the recent concerns in front of the visiting US Deputy Secretary for homeland security, Jane Holl Lute. The interesting thing that I noticed was – apart from other concerns such as megacity policing, home grown terror, fake currency racket, etc., concerns for objectionable content on the websites were discussed with utmost intensity. The Indian home secretary also stressed that the content should be removed in real time and if no action is taken then Indian government would force social networking sites to set up servers in the home land. While I read this news, three questions started circling in my head, which I will try to address too.
1. Can we regulate content on Social Media?
In the past I had discussed this topic with some industry experts who understand social media and their common view was that it is insane to do so and you won’t be able to do so. Initially, the debate began with Kapil Sibal wanting to regulate content last year, following which there was an uproar by the common man. Since then the UPA government has taken a topsy-turvy kind of approach in the whole matter. At one given point of time, the government says that it will follow the Chinese Internet model and at the other given point it said that thinking of doing so is insane. But the latest development clearly shows that the government is adamant on regulating social media.
Let’s for a second assume that Indian government is successful in doing so but then things still went viral when there was no social media 2 or 3 years back. So shall I assume that the government is going to set up a team to monitor email (personal and business) and mobile messages? The officials at the government have to understand that social media is not the real problem here but it is the beauty of Internet that has made things so agile and easy. So the government needs to brainstorm a whole lot more on a much wider spectrum and find out if it can really regulate Internet and create the second Great Wall of China in India.
2. Who decides what is objectionable content?
This is the tricky part and gets really interesting – who decides that the content is objectionable? And will it not lead to opportunistic decisions if it is done in social media. For instance, recently Mamata Banerjee and her team had asked Facebook to delete her morphed images. But I can safely presume that CID has better things to do rather than chasing Facebook to delete images.
I understand that objectionable content such as child pornography, bullying images, images displaying religious hatred, etc. should be deleted. And social networks such as Facebook, Youtube, etc. have competent laws that take care of it. So along with deleting objectionable content, the question also arises as to who decides what is objectionable, definitely not the government.
3. Why are governments globally, scared of Social Media?
Governments may not agree on this but we do know the fact that they are scared and so they want to control it. For the first time, they are scared as they are seeing an immense weapon in the hands of the common man. Whether it is the Tahrir Square revolution or the Anna movement back home, social media had a strong role in promoting the revolt. The recent episode of Abhishek Manu Singhvi would have been suppressed if there was no social media. Such is the power of social media.
But then, is being scared a solution? On the other hand, I don’t see a drastic change in the mindset of the government, as it is yet to understand and embrace social media. And starting a social media presence just does not mean being effective on social media.
Social Media is such a great tool if used in the right manner and can yield high results but for that you will have to accept it with an open heart and be prepared to listen too. I don’t think the UPA government is ready to do this. As we had highlighted recently, it is also a fact that the government is regulating content on Indian networks and blogs on the sly.
Do you think social media should be regulated? And if abusive content needs to be deleted, then do you think the baton should be in the hands of the government? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and hopefully our blog is not pulled down for opposing the ridiculous social media regulation attempts by UPA government.