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Saturday, August 25, 2012

How government will lose from harsh actions against social media

There can be little dispute that the right to free speech will have to be circumscribed by requirements of public order. Incitement and malicious propaganda based on morphed pictures and falsehood do not qualify to be championed as freedom of expression.

The law of the land is clear on this and all providers of assorted internet services and the citizens at large have to respect the law. There is little to cavil on this count.

The trouble is when the state exercises its power to demand removal of offensive content to silence political opponents or other critics, some of whom have no overt political agenda but are capable of undermining authority through satire.

Some of the sites targeted by the government for blocking are those that actually expose the morphing of images for propaganda purposes. So far, there is little reason to believe that the government intends to muzzle criticism.

But unimaginative and indiscreet use of its censorial powers can create that impression. The government should desist from such errors, of passive and active kinds.

Blocking access to the views of right-wing journalists and activists whose views might be unpalatable but stay within the limits of legality is a very bad idea.

If these individuals are actually inciting violence, they should be acted against in person. If their conduct does not warrant penal action against them, why muzzle their online voice? Parodies and satirical critiques are an integral part of the public discourse that holds power to account.

Just because some thin-skinned politicians managed to bulldoze the government into rethinking use of cartoons in textbooks, babus should not get the idea that it is okay to go after satirical critiques online.

There is little chance that people will mistake parodies for the real thing. All sense in the land has not migrated into New Delhi's official Bhavans, some bit still stays in the heads of the aam aadmi. Credit them with that sense. 
Source : The Economic Times, August 25, 2012

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