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Social Media and Freedom of Speech

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With the emerging trends and the significant changes in the chain of thoughts, the present world scenario is in such a place, where we see that the voices of the common masses are not kept in the dark, rather they are show-cased in the best possible. Way out in the light where the overwhelming ‘reactions’ by fellow ‘netizens’ are something that takes people by storm and moves their sentiments and outlook on certain aspects in a manner where their main focus stands out to be one single objective that is: ‘Expressing Oneself.’ Being an active citizen of the 21st Century, I can confidently state that, social media is one of the best platforms, when it comes to expressing oneself. It is true that the vehement flow of thoughts can and have to be restricted at certain situations, but when it comes to the exhibition of the imperial standards of the skeptic society, social media is the game-changer and the miracle-worker in show-casing the discrepancies as well as the victorious engagements from which the society can benefit altogether. The malapropism used by the netizens can sometimes be challenging and it can be stated that it is extremely difficult to disabuse people out of their biases, especially when those biases have become cultural norms in the proper functioning of a society. The limited information obtained from the exiguous sources can sometimes be prohibitive in nature and that is exactly where a line must be drawn. Thus, in this particular accumulated research shall talk and showcase the different challenges before the Indian Law when it comes to the freedom of speech and expression in terms of social media.

Social Media

“Engage, enlighten, encourage and especially… just be yourself! Social media is a community effort and everyone is an asset” – Susan Cooper.

Social media – the most commonly used tool of the internet, the platform where one will find everything and more. The place where the promulgation of ideas and beliefs are openly declared and showed in front of a million eyes. Social media acts as a succedaneum for people to facilitate by placing their thoughts and opinions in an unblemished manner and this particular power possessed by the mankind makes us feel particularly ‘modernized’ and makes us resemble to a much superior and knowledgeable generation of awake citizens.

India is one of the many countries, where there is an extensive use of the social media and in this country nobody puts us down for expressing our views out on the Internet, our country’s situation in this particular situation might seem to be something that is dreamlike, but it is not as soothing, if we look into the technicalities and the hurdles that are placed and are existing are not very mesmerizing in nature to be precise. The Internet platforms make this world a minute place to live in. ‘User generated content’ is the name given to all of the innumerable ways in which an individual may use the social media. (Andreas M. Kaplan & Michael Haenlein (2010), ‘Users of the World, Unite! The Challenges and Opportunities of Social Media’, Business Horizons, vol. 53, 2010, pp. 59-68, at 61).

A little technology, a little sociology but a lot more of psychology – that is how social media in today’s world can be defined in using just these three terms. Technology is the reason behind the creation of all of these flourishing platforms; sociology because there is development, there is a certain pattern which the human society follows in order to function in a systematic manner; and lastly – psychology because, the infliction caused by social media on an individual’s mind is relentless – it’s beyond measures. People are mostly ‘affected’ by whatever goes on in their screens and that observation has been proven through various studies and experiments by the experts. The tools and techniques for analyzing data and the strategies brought forward by the usage of social media is a life-changing development in our generation. It is a transformation that has taken the world by storm and thus, it is a fact that can be established and proven with life-changing facts and cases.

The liberty and freedom to post and upload everything and anything does not mean that one has the right to blurt out anything that can cause violation to the existing norms, ethics and moral code of the society. Certain stunts by individuals are highly disregarded and are not accepted by the people at any cost and that is where the line is been drawn and the freedom is been restricted and the need for it stands out to be very true because the human mind is capable of different kinds of malicious and defamatory thoughts. Often the amount of begrudgery offered by the people online is considered to be completely harmful in nature and that shall not be tolerated at any cost.

There are various categories of social-media. Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) classified social media into six different types: collaborative projects (e.g., Wikipedia); blogs and micro blogs (e.g., Twitter); content communities (e.g., YouTube); social networking sites (e.g., Facebook); virtual game worlds (e.g., World of War craft); virtual social worlds (e.g. Second Life).

  1. Social networking. Social networking sites are those online portals that enable the users to connect virtually with friends, family and unknown people for that matter. It offers facilities such as chatting, instant and direct-messaging, sharing and uploading of photos, videos and updates from time to time. The social-networking sites that are extensively used world-wide by n number of people are: Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. These are just a few out of the innumerable social networking sites that are upcoming on a daily basis by various app-creators.
  2. Blogs. Blogs are simply a form of descriptive content created and maintained by individual users that mostly contain text, photos and links to other websites. The interactive feature of blogs is the ability of readers to leave comments and the comment trail can be followed by the creators who are specifically known as ‘bloggers’.
  3. Micro-blogs. Micro blogs are similar to blogs with a typical restriction of 140 characters or less, which allows users to write and share content. For example, Twitter is a micro blogging site that enables its users to send and read ‘tweets’. It’s like a brief summarized take by an author on a chosen topic.
  4. Vlogs and video sharing sites. Video blogs (Vlogs) are blogging sites that mainly use video as the main form of content supported by text. YouTube is the world’s largest video sharing site. On YouTube, the content creators create videos and through YouTube, the famous verified creators can generate an income too. In the present scenario, we see the emerging trend of ‘Tik Tok’ creeping into the modern entertainment genre. Also, there have been numerous raging battles in between some of the content-creators of these two platforms.
  5. Wikipedia. Wikipedia and WikiHow are collaborative websites that allow multiple users to create and update pages on particular or interlinked subjects and topics at large. While a single page is referred to as ‘wiki page’, the entire related content on that topic is called a ‘Wiki’. These multiple pages are linked through hyperlinks and allow users to interact in a complex and non-linear manner.
  6. Social bookmarking. This particular service allows an individual to save, organize and manage links to various websites and resources found around the Internet. The main kind of communication takes place by tagging websites and searching through websites bookmarked by various other people. Few of the most popular social bookmarking sites can be Delicious and Stumble Upon.
  7. Social news. These are the kind of services that tend to allow people to post various news items or links to the already existing outside articles and pieces of information. Prevalent Interaction tends to take place by voting for the displayed and published items and commenting on them spontaneously. Voting can be considered as the core aspect because the items that get the most number of votes are prominently published. The feature is mostly referred to as ‘up-voted’. The most popular are Digg, Reddit and Propeller.
  8. Media sharing. These services are created to allow people to upload and share photos or videos. Interaction is performed by sharing and commenting on the submissions by the user. There can be certain kind of overlapping among the above mentioned types of social media. For instance, Facebook has micro blogging features with their ‘status update’. Also, Flickr and YouTube have comment systems similar to that of blogs.

Freedom of Speech and Expression

“Without the freedom to criticize, question and challenge the dominant narrative, societies cannot make progress” – Elif Shafak.

A country can only progress and emerge out of the plethora of shackles only when the citizens are devoid of the existing ‘fear’ of speaking out their objectives and open up their mindsets on a larger platform. Being heard is one of the biggest necessities and without having the freedom to express generously – a country cannot be considered to be free at any cost. The alleviation of this freedom shall be the focus of our country and that shall be possible only when there is unison and zero level of agitation.

There can be certain aggravations to this particular freedom. The ‘restrictions’ have to be provided by the law in the necessary circumstances. As far as the restrictions are concerned – the freedom cannot be formidable in nature, for instance – the persecutions, the outraging threats, the constant interference – while exercising one’s freedom, one cannot be indifferent to these constant aspects. The society or the affected party does not turn a deaf-ear to the violation of his/her rights. Thus, even a trifle issue can take an exaggerated or an augmented turn.

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The nature of this freedom cannot be considered as ‘absolute’ – it is entitled with different kinds of special responsibilities and duties of certain nature and those have to be duly validated and understood while proper reverence must also be paid towards them.

This particular right is not something that has come into existence a few days ago, it is an age-old essential concept which vehemently carried high importance and significant weight. We cannot deny the intensity or forcefulness of the term: ‘expression’. This term has the power to create the necessary turbulence that is possible on the face of Earth. The established expressions have the power to arouse certain nationalist fervour, which can be ecstatic and intense at the same time. The origination goes back to the Greek Athenian Era, which is more than 2400 years ago.

The following are some of the most frequently and commonly definitions of freedom of expression that are referred to and are considered as completely valid on the international statures as well.

Firstly, Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (UDHR) – “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

Article 19 (2), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (ICCPR) – “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”.

Similarly, Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India. It also confers on the citizens of India the right “to freedom of speech and expression”. The freedom of speech and expression means the right to express one’s convictions and opinions freely by word of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode. It also includes the right to propagate or publish the views of other people. In its landmark judgment, the Indian Supreme Court in the case of the Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting vs. Cricket Association, Bengal with Cricket Association, Bengal vs. Union of India has also recognized the ‘right to information’ as part of the fundamental right of speech and expression under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution.

The term ‘freedom of speech and expression’ includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. Based on John Milton’s arguments, freedom of speech is understood as a multi-faceted right including not only the right to express or disseminate information and ideas but also including the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.

The elaborate and complete idea of freedom of speech and expression is intimately and ephemerally linked to the concept of democracy. Alexander Meiklejohn, one of the proponents of this link ethically states that democracy means ‘self-governance’ by the people and for the proper functioning of which, an informed electorate is indispensable which, in turn, requires that there be no constraints on the free flow of information and ideas. Democracy will not be true to its essential ideal if those in power are able to manipulate the electorate by withholding information and stifling criticism.

Again, Richard Moon proves that the value of freedom of speech and expression lies within social interactions. He says “by communicating an individual form relationships and associations with others-family, friends, co-workers, church congregation, and countrymen, by entering into discussion with others an individual participates in the development of knowledge and in the direction of the community”.

Stature of Freedom of Speech and Expression in the Era of Social Media

In the recent times, the most thoroughly used means of communication is undoubtedly, the social media. Now and then we witness this spirit among our fellow nationalists – they have the urge to have their voice out in the light and the true sense of solidarity takes a well-defined shape when the diverse school of thoughts are supported in an appeasing manner altogether. The natural ebullient reaction towards the functioning of the social media platforms by the general masses is not a small thing, perhaps, anything that tends to instigate the population, becomes a matter of importance. The feeling of ‘being connected’ which the social media platforms revive within the people makes us want to express respect or praise for; honor is vividly recommended.

Thus, when such an insightful medium which allows us to exchange vital information and also acts as our source of entertainment and breaks a smile on our boring schedules appears to be so appalling, it also deserves to be treated courteously or perhaps, respectfully. The nature of the usage of the Internet has been such a vital matter that it has been entitled as a human right. Yes, internet access is been declared a human right by the report submitted by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression which was submitted to the Human Rights Council. A plethora of proper pragmatic applications to freedom of opinion and expression in the radically altered media landscape have been given by the UN Human Rights Committee. The main source of the discovery of knowledge is been completely occupied by the internet and mobile telecommunication. New media as a global network to exchange various ideas and thoughts that do not necessarily rely on the traditional sources, the Committee stated that the States should take all necessary steps to foster the independence of these new media and also ensure access to them. Moreover, Article 19(2) of the ICCPR and Article 19 of the UDHR also provides for freedom of speech and expression even in the scenario of Internet and social media.

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Social Media and Freedom of Speech. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/social-media-and-freedom-of-speech/
“Social Media and Freedom of Speech.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/social-media-and-freedom-of-speech/
Social Media and Freedom of Speech. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/social-media-and-freedom-of-speech/> [Accessed 7 Dec. 2022].
Social Media and Freedom of Speech [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2022 Dec 7]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/social-media-and-freedom-of-speech/
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