Access to social media, a right or privilege?

Mark Zuckerberg, a much familiar name to our generation, one of the richest person in the world, the owner of one of the largest company, Facebook. Here ‘large’ doesn’t just apply to stature. ‘Large’ applies to power. The modern century is a digital book. Every person who doesn’t identify himself as a primitive caveman has his name on some kind of a digital forum. Be its a bank account, phone company, or most importantly social media. What is social media? “A website or application that enables its users to create and share content or to participate in social networking”… at least that’s how the definition goes on Wikipedia. Basically, social media is a forum for sharing ideas and content. It is one of the gifts of mobile networking devices like smartphones using which people stay connected to this digital book day in and day out. Spreading ideas and logging their names into the forum. While many see this as a virtue, some want to weaponize such platforms. The case of Apple-FBI dispute in 2016 arose when FBI wanted Apple to unlock an iPhone 5C which was used by Farook, one of the attackers in the 2015 San Bernardino attack. They pressurized that the need was of national interest. Apple initially declined to unlock the phone and a debate rose to what extent must they protect the users of the data. It was a debate over extreme ethical importance. The case was delayed to a hearing scheduled on March 28 and before the time arrived, FBI went on record saying that they had help from third-party services to unlock the phone and not very significant data was recovered from the phone. Such is the encryption technology used by the companies, that organizations such as the FBI are also unable to crack it. It is believed that the phone was rigged to delete all its data after 10 attempts to guessing the right password. Such a level of protection remains a reason for the pride of the users of such devices but there is always a flipside to the coin’s face. It also seems to be a cause of hindrance towards the establishment of complete security by the government. Such is the case for social media. Text messaging services like WhatsApp and Signal boast a similar end-to-end encryption feature. And this has caused a major widespread concern for the Indian government. Recent events concerning national security, ranging from the scale of large-scale terror attacks to small petty cases registered in the next-door police station, have been analyzed and we can draw a clear conclusion that the source of communication has been the same medium the masses use. Moreover, recent events concerning cases of defamation and wrongful framing of innocent identities have given rise to various legal problems. And so the Indian government has concluded to negotiate with the various social media companies. And the news of major social media applications getting banned in India has broken the internet. The targeted companies have been brought to either accept the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules 2021 or withdraw operations from the Indian network. Before criticizing the government, let's take a look into what the various conditions are. According to these new rules, Social Media platforms can have all their normal functioning but they are presented with a need to monitor the activity of the users to tackle its misuse and abuse. The government has proposed the embodiment of a mechanism for redressal and timely resolution of the grievances of the users. This means the users will continue to enjoy the journalistic and creative freedoms and continue to have the right to criticism while a new system to check the activity is to be incorporated. Such a system is driven by the users themselves with the use of a new report feature which is a request for the concerned authorities to check the reported content for abusive content. Hence no new activities will go unchecked by a checking agency. A further emphasis on checking and removal of sexually abusive or content including nudity is to be implemented. The companies were given a time of 3 months to apply the following changes or else retreat their operations. A further organizational change has been proposed for the creation of a panel of 3 residentially Indian officers working on behalf of the company. A Chief Compliance Officer responsible for compliance with the rules presented by the government, Nodal Contact Person for coordination with the law enforcement agency, and Resident Grievance Officer for the performance of special functions of the grievance redressal mechanism. They also have to produce a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of the variety of posts and messages acted on by them. If abusive content is surfacing in the mass media, they are also to track down and provide information on the origin of the content to pinpoint the details of the person behind it. We all have seen the new privacy policy message pop up frequently in the last few days in social media apps like WhatsApp but the companies are yet to comply completely with the terms placed by the government. The recent case involving Zomato boy, Kamaraj, and social media influencer Hitesha Chandranee is a booming example of the negative power of social media. There is an imbalance in the popularity and follower level among the two of them. Hitesha has been charged with wrongful restraint, assault, intentional insult, and criminal intimidation. This is comparatively much less known news than the start of the controversy which caused a huge amount of people to declare Kamaraj guilty despite the fact that police have decided to close the case file and stop investigating due to the availability of lack of evidence. Yet there has been a clear case of media manipulated character assassination of both Kamaraj and the much popular fashion model after Kamaraj’s reply video went viral. Most of the people who are debating on the facts over the case of banning social media also are not aware of the real facts of the case. Such power held by social media companies is dangerous or not is a very old debate. But this power surely must be monitored by the government who is working equally as hard to secure the interests of its people. From the above-stated facts, we can have a conclusion that the freedom of speech and expression, the two main fundamental rights of a dignified citizen of a republic like India unless there is spam reporting of posts which has been an issue faced by the social media networks which have already implemented this service. Although a redressal mechanism brings the users closer to the administration of the government as well as monitoring agencies of the media services, it cannot be ignored that such surveillance is a problem for privacy concerns. As there will be the formation of a monitoring agency looking at every post that comes and goes. Although an agency's worker’s rights and actionable statements are very well specified and strict, agencies are made up of a large number of people, and not all people are equally responsible for a huge amount of data. And if the government stresses on removing the end-to-end encryption for the sake of transparency, perhaps the system becomes too transparent making our data vulnerable to cyber terrorism. The verdict of the people differs a lot but the expert’s view is that such rules are highly instrumental for the security and serving quick justice in defamation and abusive cases of the mass population but are also a vulnerability to the privacy of individual people. a total of 6 billion people in the world use social media and almost 530 million among them are Indians. The social media platforms certainly will not want to let this humongous number get out of their hand and they will most probably come into an agreement with the government where new policies may also be discussed less harsh on their ethics. Whatever may be the case, we can expect a new front to be opened up for the judiciary.

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