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Banning WhatsApp or Facebook doesn’t help!

23 August 2018 3dm

In the recent spate of incidents surrounding the regulation of communication and social media services, there has been a vociferous stand by the government to keep a statutory check over the ever popular services like WhatsApp and Facebook. To that end, telecom service providers were asked to find legal ways and means to ban these two networks during periods of social unrest. While it is in the best interest of the citizens and their security to have a vigil over communication mediums & prohibit fake news which has adverse effects on the society like mob lynching’s and communal violence, how appropriate is it to impose a ‘ban’ over any service specifically pertaining to social media and communication networks? What remains a fact is the mushrooming of varied apps and sites for the propagation of news and views so how does a state machinery curb the menace of false news and anti-social elements by banning few major market players?

What is required in this hugely populous nation is the formulation of regulatory mechanisms which serve as guiding rules for any communication service providers as well as penalize callous conduction of their operations. It also deems fit to ensure common citizenry has a say in objectionable content and their reporting must be viewed as diligently as the matters during an emergency. A walk of million miles starts with a single step. If statutes can efficiently provide discretion on publicly expressed speech on a regular basis especially when such expression is deemed harmful for peace and harmony of society, only then is the real start towards receding the real threat of anti-national and fake propaganda.

There is also a need for self-imposed regulation by service providers. Since there is an absence of stringent statutory provisions as to the filtering and monitoring of online content in India it is time to formulate provisions which are inclusive of cutting-edge technologies so that no loophole protects miscreants.

While WhatsApp, Facebook, telegram and other such communication network companies can be considered as intermediaries of telecom service providers, the responsibilities of intermediaries under the cyber law are restricted. There is an immediate need for progressive statutes and amends for safer communication online. Also, to check the arbitrary use of state power over free speech through harsh measures like bans communication network companies must employ vigilant measures like Facebook has taken in Germany by deleting posts which are prohibited under their ‘hate speech law.’

Sahitya Yerramsetty
Corporate Lawyer & Human Rights Advocate