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Rajya Sabha TV: Security Scan – Tackling Hate Speech on Social Media


Rajya Sabha TV: Security Scan – Tackling Hate Speech on Social Media


Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google and many others have revolutionized the way we communicate as a society. These platforms, which are used to chat with friends and families, have a powerful impact on public discourse. Like any other mode of communication, this medium too is susceptible to misuse. People are vulnerable to the content that grabs their attention regardless of its substance. The problem becomes grave when these platforms are used for propaganda or propagation of hate speech and by the terror outfits to spread their message of hate and violence to radicalize the youth. This in turn affects internal security of the country. Several steps have been taken by various countries such as Germany and United Kingdom to combat the menace of hate speech on social media platforms.

Issues:

  1. It is very difficult to trace who is posting such content. Robots can post fake news items. It can morph pictures and video clips to create hatred. Indian masses are more susceptible than the West because of the lower level of education.
  2. In terms of analyzing what constitutes hate speech and what does not, there is a lack of clarity, which has led to the culprits not being prosecuted properly.
  3. Hate speech has been covered under 6-7 provisions of IPC in India. Despite best intentions, the government’s actions are often marred by procedural irregularities and overreach.

Indian Scenario:

In India too, this issue has been debated and discussed since the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of IT Act in March 2015 terming it as open ended, undefined and vague. The Central Government has then set up an expert committee headed by the former Law Secretary and Secretary General of Lok Sabha Mr. T.K. Vishwanathan to propose new laws or amendments to deal with hate speech on internet. According to reports, the Committee has suggested that some sections of IPC, Code of Criminal Procedure and the IT Act should be amended to introduce stringent provisions specifying punishment to deal with cases of hate speech and use of cyberspace to spread hatred and incitement.

The public order concerns of law enforcement are often in tension with the free positions of social media platforms and in many cases, they tend to tilt towards protecting freedom of speech and retaining material online. After the Supreme Court decision in the Shreya Singhal judgment, Facebook stated that it will not remove content unless received by a binding court order or notification from an authorized agency which conforms to the constitutional safeguards laid down by the court.

Possible Solutions to Tackle Hate Speech:

  1. Clarity and technological upgradation is needed to deal with this and a mechanism to get down such material, which is prone to disturb social setup.
  2. Improving the level of training in equality and non-discrimination among police forces and legal bodies, improving research and encouraging reporting of such content.
  3. Indian government has been pushing for internet platforms to locate their servers in the country, which might help address dangerous speech in real time.
  4. Generating contra-narratives on social networks and raising public awareness through campaigns to tackle extremism.
  5. There can be an internationally accepted law that places the responsibility on social media companies like Facebook to tackle hate speech by deleting obviously illegal content within 24 hours if there is a request from the Government of a particular nation.
  6. Social media platforms need to take responsibility to ensure transparency, accountability and a system of rules and guidelines that users can recognize as standards, and which when enforced in a regularized fashion can begin to act as precedents. Thus, users, police and civil society actors will have a clear sense of what kind of material is likely to be taken down.

Conclusion:

Internet has made everybody a speaker and for the first time, Indian masses have access to large audience for broadcasting their messages. Though the threat of hate speech cannot be wished away completely but it can be ensured that the mechanisms to tackle it are strengthened in future with a fine balance between freedom of speech and enforcement of laws.