India being a civilization older than thousands of years had a form of democratic setup of its own. Especially when we look at the history of Kalinga war when emperor Ashoka invaded the land, it was said that Kalinga was a democratic society. It is still evident in the form of Panchayats where people elect or nominate people of wisdom as their village chief to look after their needs and issues. The concept of modern Democracy in the form we see it today in India was introduced by Europeans and Indians alike. Europe and America has successfully developed a fabric of understanding and tolerance which is essential for a democratic and free society to flourish. This fabric though at times has been tarnished by acts of war, genocide, holocaust and racism. But the resultant conflicts produced more polished and peaceful society once it emerged out of such issues. These positive upward movements were possible partly because of institutional changes made by their respective governments. Asians including Indians unfortunately have so far not been able to either bring institutional changes which results genocide, holocaust and discrimination or have failed in its implementation.
News media and social networks need to be sensitive while handling such issues. In a country of more than 1.22 billion population, differences are bound to emerge. Prudence exercised by media publication agencies while handling such issues will make people appreciative of its positive contribution towards society. With great power comes great responsibility. While freedom of speech is an inherent right given to all participants of a democratic society, those who exercise this right should exercise it with caution and in a sensible manner. This becomes more critical while handling issues which can create discord in a peaceful society. At times of disorder and social discord, media and social networks should play the role of building bridges instead of creating barriers.
There have been times when people irrespective of faith, language and region forgot human values and prefer to awake the devil inside them. There have been times when humanity felt ashamed when Brahmins in southern India and Kashmir were persecuted. Muslims, Dalits and Christians in all over India were killed in mass riots. People killed in Maharashtra for not being ethnic Marathi speaking. Sikhs being massacred for no fault they themselves committed. In these situations, media and social networks have failed to rally in support of human values by not publicising contrasts in society, like the case of those Hindus who saved lives of Muslims in Gujarat riots, Christian lives in Odisha and vice versa. There have been numerous instances in our society when human values have won against divisive forces. Like the case when far right saffron organizations called for “Trishul diksha” in the wake of anniversary of Godhra train burning. But was equally remembered by certain NGO’s who gave out roses public to promote mutual understanding and harmony.
A similar trend can be seen in social network websites, especially in youtube, facebook and in news article reader comments when they fuel conflict instead of taming it. One can easily find videos in youtube abusive of Hindu idols, Christian missionaries and Muslim issues in India. Provided we knew the right key word for search. Similar facebook groups and fan page exists which are fanning conflict and creating discomfort. While social media websites are big businesses and create employment and revenue, they should also be appreciative of the society from which they earn their revenue.
Taking note of the situation Delhi High court Judge said. “If a contraband is found in your house, it your liability to take action against it,” Justice Suresh Cait told lawyers from Facebook India and Google India. “Like China, we can block all such websites (who don’t comply). But let us not go to that situation,” he said in a packed courtroom. “At present it’s obscene images of Gods and Goddesses, tomorrow it can be an image of someone in your family posted online. There has to be some control,” he told lawyers of Google India and Facebook India.
Facebook and Google however shifted the onus of monitoring obscene imagery online on to Internet Service Providers in India such as Bharti Airtel, BSNL and Reliance, saying that under their license conditions they are liable to block it. They have also explained to the court legal reasons too. Mukul Rohtagi, counsel for Google India, said: “Google India is an Indian company and service provider is Google Inc., which is an American company. A person can make complaints to the service provider to remove derogatory contents not me.”
There have been positive uses of social networking too. Like traffic police across the cities of Delhi, Pune, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Kanpur, Kolkataand many more joined social networking site Facebook and are encouraged posting of crowdsourced information on Traffic violations. It has helped bringing transparency and more accountability in these cities in dealing with overcrowded roads where rash driving was frequent. Not only the traffic police, The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) from the state of Karnataka also joined Facebook and Twitter to remove the obstacles people face in approaching it.
The recent court suggestion aided by government to sanction prosecution of social networking websites might have positive outcome for the society. However its positive contributions might also be lost. Whether these websites are blocked from Indian servers or not, civil society should however use this debate as an opportunity to understand and eradicate reasons which are leading to increased conflicts in our society from abuse of social networks. As we are living in twenty-first century we will need tools and resources to improve our living standards. Technology can play a greater role in this aspect. However insensitive use of technology against humanity will only lead to extinction of such technology and humanity itself. While freedom of speech is laudable, awareness about its sensible use needs to be spread. There can be workshops and awareness camps to emphasise positive use of social media. Young students who will shoulder responsibility of the nation can be educated about its positive uses so that our next generation will become a blessing for all of us.