On 19th November, 2012, two girls from the district of Palghar were arrested on the grounds of “promoting enmity between classes”.
21-year-old Shaheen Dhanda had posted her opinion on Facebook regarding the shutdown in Mumbai followingBal Thackeray’s death, and her friend Renu Srinivasan had “liked” the status update.
Uproar ensued over the arrests, with several news agencies condemning the act as one of abuse of authority. This is not the first time an arrest has been made in India following an update on social media. For criticizing the son of P. Chidambaram, India’s Finance Minister, Ravi Srinivasan was arrested in October; In April, a teacher who shared cartoons critical of West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was arrested.
But India is definitely not the only country where arrests are made for expressing opinions on social media.
Lord McAlpine, a British politician is planning to sue people who re-tweeted false allegations about him being a child abuser. There are over 10,000 tweets, and if he does win, each person who retweeted the allegations about him will have to pay $8 to children’s charities; and there will be separate dealings with celebrities who did the same.
In Turkey, pianist and composer Fazil Say was arrested and put on trial for his alleged tweets that were “insulting Islam”; and in Bahrain, four unidentified men have been arrested for slander against the King; this is however common in most Middle Eastern countries, especially in the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions that overtook Egypt, Syria and Yemen, to name a few.
A decade ago, making arrests based on what one does online was unthinkable. Now, however, as most of the population and government agencies resort to social media, things have changed. Social media is first and foremost a valuable tool, where people can exchange information and quick news reports. But for the same reason, it could be used for illegal purposes as well. Tweets and status updates are being monitored more than ever before, to keep a tab on illegal and terrorist activities. More often than not, most people are arrested over harmless comments or stupid actions.
The downside of the rise of Facebook and Twitter is the fact that more people are getting a platform to express their opinions. And the fact of the matter is, most times these opinions end up being slanderous against one community or another. In India, over 100 million people use the internet. While this is a small percentage of our population, is it wise to go around arresting everyone who writes down their feelings?
People forget these days that Facebook and Twitter are no longer private. One needs to censor oneself to maintain credibility. You cannot stop people from putting up racist, sexist or any sort of prejudiced opinions on the internet, but at the same time government authorities should not go around arresting every individual who posted ignorant and stupid remarks.
With the progress in technology and a change in lifestyle, it is perhaps also important and necessary for a change of laws. Laws should be made more concrete and thorough, and should be applicable to life in the twenty first century.
Certainly when it becomes easier for people across the world to connect, it also becomes more necessary that views are regulated. However, instead of censoring every remark that comes your way, these issues must be dealt with like a democracy should. The people’s opinions are after all what make a democracy function properly.
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