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TechSocial media and freedom of expression

Social media and freedom of expression

Published: 16th Nov 2020 11:57 pm

Social media is a great platform for the voiceless to have their voice. Social media comprises interactive Web 2.0 internet-based applications. It is mostly user-generated content such as text posts or comments, photos or videos, and data generated through online interactions which is the lifeblood of social media. Social media has primarily internet and smartphone-based tools used for sharing and discoursing information. Social media facilitates online social networking by connecting a user’s profile with individuals or groups.

How is social media different from traditional forms of communication?

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• Its collaborative identity construction where posts by different individuals come together to create a dynamic and evolving identity and user profiles are informed by both the users and their connections
• Social connections are in the forms of friendship, followers, etc.
• Personal social network makes social ties visible and consequently, searchable and quantifiable.
• An evolving user interface and privacy settings alter both users and visibility through the site, as well as ability of user to reasonably control it
• Users voluntarily disclose personal details, opinions, and preferences in order to socialise.
• Social media content is easily contextualised in many aspects

Freedom of expression

Freedom of speech and expression is a notion that every person has the natural right to freely express themselves through any media without any interference or censorship, and without fear of reprisal, such as threats and persecutions as in Article 19 (1) (a) and Article 21, and it comes with certain limitations as in Article 19 (2).

Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution confers on citizens of India right to freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of speech and expression is the right to express one’s opinions freely by word of mouth, writing, printing, pictures, or the opposite mode. It also includes the right to propagate or publish the views of people furthermore.

As per Article 19 (2) of the Constitution, the legislature may enact laws to impose restrictions on the right to speech and expression on the following grounds:

• Sovereignty and integrity of India
• National security
• Friendly relations with foreign states
• Public order
• Decency or morality
• Contempt of court
• Defamation
• Incitement to an offense


We all accept that social media are powerful means of expression especially for the marginalized and voiceless people but unfortunately it has been increasingly misused for unlawful activities from all sections of society including individuals, corporations and political leaders, giving impetus to call for censoring social media.

On the other hand, the misuse of social media demands the need for formal censorship, while there are also fears of violation of civil rights of people as an inevitable consequence of social media censorship. There is a possibility of formal guidelines similar to “media certification and monitoring committee” to monitor election campaigns on social media and if we understand correctly, it is not censorship. The present IT Act is not adequate to suit the current trends and social media consumption patterns of our society.

There is an immediate need for a committee which can draft guidelines in this regard. We should have technical experts and civil society experts along with the government to look into all the possible facets of the use and misuse of social media and recommend a suitable manner in which it can provide a guideline that does not hinder the civil rights of citizens, especially the freedom of speech and expression.

Stay Tuned to Cyber Talk column for more on internet ethics and digital wellness brought to you by Anil Rachamalla, End Now Foundation,


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