Rise, Roar, Revolt in the Republic of Social Media | TO SEE

Social media empowers the masses. You can post whatever you want. Or can you? And who decides what stays on social media and what doesn’t?

The Narendra Modi government in February 2021 made sweeping changes to information technology rules to regulate social media.

Companies such as Twitter and Meta (Facebook) are now required to recognize government requests to remove illegal, misleading and violent content within 24 hours. They are also required to provide a full repair within 15 days.

The change in IT rules came amid accusations and counter-accusations that the Twitter and Facebook platforms are biased for and against content laden with certain ideological biases.

Left-wing voices have accused them of failing to curb right-wing propaganda and abuses. The right has alleged that social media platforms are flattering the lies of the left and cursing Indian traditions and religious beliefs.

Content publishers, social media companies, and government agencies have often engaged in legal battles. One such case was heard in the Delhi High Court on Monday over allegedly blasphemous content about Hindu deities.

READ ALSO | Why not block account posting objectionable content about Hindu goddess, HC asks Twitter citing Trump ban

Another case is coming up in the Delhi High Court later this week. The petitioner, Wokeflix, alleges that social media companies selectively target pro-Hindu handles and handles while taking no action against Hindu-phobic publishers.

Wokeflix petitioner Megha Choubey said Instagram and Twitter handles were devoted to posting political satire on social media.

WHAT HAPPENED?

A Delhi High Court bench consisting of Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Navin Chawla has asked popular micro-blogging platform, Twitter, why it cannot block accounts that post profanity and reprehensible against Goddess Kaali if she could suo motu block former US President Donald Trump. Account.

The case concerns a message posted by a Twitter account, “AtheistRepublic”. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition alleged that the post was offensive to the Hindu goddess “Maa Kaali”. The petitioner claimed that Twitter did not remove the offending post or block the user’s account despite repeated complaints.

The lawyer representing Twitter told the Delhi High Court that the company removes content or blocks a user only when instructed by the court. The high court bench asked: ‘Why did you block Mr Trump then?’

Twitter kicked Trump out of the platform in 2021 during the Capitol Hill riots, citing “the risk of further incitement to violence.”

The Delhi High Court raised the issue of ethnic, religious and regional sensitivity and bias saying: “It ultimately comes down to this: if you feel sensitive, you will block out and you will not feel sensitive to other ethnicities or to people from other regions. If the same kind of thing had been done against other religions, you would have been more serious.

This particular case returns to the next hearing in September.

NOW THE WOKEFLIX CASE

This case concerns the suspension of handles belonging to the political satire group, Wokeflix, from Instagram, owned by Meta (the Facebook company) and Twitter. This story began last October.

According to the petition filed by Megha Choubey in the Delhi High Court, Instagram temporarily deleted a post from Wokeflix on the platform claiming it violated its guidelines.

A month later, in November 2021, Meta deleted one of the stories posted by Wokeflix from Instagram for “containing hate speech or symbols”. On the same day, November 28, Wokeflix’s Instagram handle was deactivated. Three days later, on December 1, Meta reinstated Wokeflix’s Instagram account.

Three months later, on March 1 this year, Twitter suspended Wokeflix’s account “without giving any opportunity to hear the petition in any way,” the petition filed in the High Court reads.

Hearing this motion in early March, Bench of Delhi High Court V Kameswar Rao notified Twitter of the suspension of Wokeflix’s handle and Meta of the temporary suspension of his Instagram handle.

THE GRIEVANCE

Wokeflix has challenged the punitive measures taken by social media platforms against its handles citing the right to freedom of speech and expression as a petitioner as well as those of the general public to have access to differing views on different topics and problems.

Incidentally, Wokeflix also cited the case of Donald Trump in support of his claim. The petition read, “Nevertheless, the incitement video was circulated by various accounts quoting and misinterpreting it. [Trump].”

He claimed that “in the absence of proper checks and balances, these social media platforms can also lead to similar situations in countries like India, where a number of discourses of hatred are not reported”.

“Social media platforms are not able to make the right judgments about posts that may incite violence or go against the rules of the nation in which they are posted. Therefore, they should not be allowed to decide on the blocking, deletion or deletion of user accounts without being heard by experts.

DEBATE

When Twitter suspended Wokeflix’s handle, it sparked a debate on social media between the “Hinduphobic” and “Islamophobic” sides. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Kapil Mishra and filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri (of The Kashmir Files fame) have condemned Twitter’s suspension of the Wokeflix handle. Some other Twitter users favored the punitive action alleging that Wokeflix was engaged in Islamophobia on social media.

The allegation of bias against social media platforms is not new and is sometimes triggered by the companies that own these media. In October 2021, Twitter published a study of its algorithm based on analyzes of content posted by users from seven countries (India not included).

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Its researchers found that Twitter’s algorithm disproportionately amplifies political content and right-wing news sources.

“Our results reveal a remarkably consistent pattern: in 6 of the 7 countries studied, the mainstream political right enjoys higher algorithmic amplification than the mainstream political left.”

“Consistent with this general trend, our second set of results studying the US media landscape found that algorithmic amplification favors right-wing news sources,” the study states.

READ ALSO | Social media is being exploited to hack our democracy, Congresswoman Sonia Gandhi tells Lok Sabha

Recently, Congress President Sonia Gandhi raised the issue of the influence of social media on democratic processes in India. Speaking at the Lok Sabha, Sonia Gandhi said “global social media companies are not providing a level playing field for all parties”.

“Companies like Facebook are aware of this and take advantage of it,” said Sonia Gandhi, while demanding action from the government to ensure that social media giants do not “hijack” the electoral process and Indian democracy.

Court cases, including those related to Wokeflix and AtheistRepublic, could force another amendment to the information technology rules notified in 2021 for better regulation of social media platforms in India.

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