Information and communication technology has changed rapidly in the past two decades. With the emergence of social media, the world is changing at an unbelievable speed. However, there’s a flip side to this, too. Constant violation of regulations related to social networking has resulted in civil and criminal cases that need urgent attention. With repeated cases of fake news and trolling, the laws governing social media need to be understood.
Social media in India is regulated by the Information Technology Act, enacted in 2000. This was put in place in order to regulate the problems that stemmed out of usage of Information Technology. Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India, 1950 guarantees “Right to freedom of speech and expression”. This is a fundamental right guaranteed to all citizens of India. However, it must be kept in mind that freedom of expression does not give ‘complete’ freedom to anybody. This does not ensure that they can write or say anything they wish to. The context or the intent behind any news or information being circulated through social media/networking channels must be regulated and evaluated. The authenticity must be verified as it can have a vast impact on the population which receives such information. While the law in this particular field is still at nascent stage, it is evolving with time.
Recently, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 which led to arrests of many people for posting allegedly objectionable content on the Internet. The Court also rejected the Centre’s plea that it was committed to free speech and would ensure the provision was administered in a reasonable manner. While the need of the hour might be to have effective and robust mechanism to govern the content over social media and networking sites, the Government must not forget that they cannot curb the constitutional and fundamental rights and prevent people from expressing their views over the issues concerning the country, including expressing their appreciation or displeasure on the functioning of the Government. The content writer and forwarder must act as a responsible citizen and ensure that such transmission of content does not lead to loss of life, reputation or dignity of any citizen. The Government must not forget that acts like Information Technology Act, 2000, were enacted to safeguard the citizens. That in no way should act as a deterrent or a tool in the hands of the Government to keep the citizens from exercising their constitutional rights.
Advocate Sumit Batra says, “Though no law can ever completely insulate the users of social media and networking from the issues or problems cropping out of technological advances, some basic guiding principles can take care of a lot many issues. While it is permissible to create, transmit and circulate news or information in social media, the big question that often arises has to do with a personal sense of discretion — something might be offensive for me but not offensive for others.”
Trolling has become a part of internet culture and has started affecting many people’s personal lives. The virtual and the real have been coloured as one. One has to be constantly careful to prevent such untoward situations from taking a toll on their personal life. For instance: If you are travelling alone, avoid posting the details on social media portals. Considering the nature and rate of criminal actions these days, one also needs to be cautious while posting the pictures of children on such portals.