These days I often find myself shock-struck when I see the internet’s social media sites. Social media which has brought into the pavilion easy access to information has also enabled the people to initiate citizen journalism. Everyone can now share his or her thoughts on social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
While on the positive side, the citizenry feels much empowered; on the negative, it has stooped the quality of public discussion much lower. Earlier in case of matters related to public importance, experts would be called for analyses and such discussions would get simulated through television. Those old days are gone. Now everybody is an expert in his own right.
I am shocked by the hysteric responses made by the netizens these days, particularly the last few weeks. From the time of the abolition of article 370 to that of Dr. Shashi Tharoor’s post of a map showing the linguistic diversity of India.
The netizens would go hysteric without understanding the ABC of subjects concerned. Everybody turns an expert on the constitution and flaunts their idea of India. However, these online trolls lack logic. One thing that is common is that there is a tone of nationalism and Hindi, Hindu, Hindutva chauvinism. If one analyses most online trolls, one would realize that most of them are from Hindi heartland. The masculinity of central India is conspicuous in the tweets.
This is a dangerous precedent because it is not a case of right or wrong. It is a case of manipulation of conscience. From different social media or other platforms’ interviews, one can decipher that they not only believe what they say but also they think they are right.
This is not self-engendered. This is assiduously done by the BJP IT cell. A number of fake news were circulated castigating Nehru and eulogizing Sardar Patel. A narrative has been built over Congress’ failure. This has seeped into the minds of the online army.
This is dangerous for Indian democracy. Because it is not confined to online. The spillover effect is pretty much visible in real-life society. Such manipulation does not limit itself to the electioneering and election process. It generates a culture in which common citizenry tends to behave in a certain way. Fake news is often believed to be true. Superstitious beliefs are given precedence over science. An ignorant citizenry is being created feeding the cocktail of arrogance and chauvinism.
In the last couple of years, a number of people were lynched in the open by some aggressive mobs. These mobs are the parts of the same brigade of online trolls. They are fed by one form or the other of internet generated post-truth. Some fell victim only because the mobs were alarmed by the fake news of child-lifters or cow-theft. Some others fell victim simply because they were selling beef lawfully. If slaughtering cows hurt the sentiment of fellow Indians, then we should ban the same lawfully. But while the law allows one thing, mobs punish the same. Where is the rule of law? Is it not the rule of the mobs, well subtly said Mobocracy.
A culture of mobocracy would someday perish the very foundation of democracy. An ignorant mob taking law in their own hands, for whatever right reasons, may be harmful to all in the long run. A threat would persist on the roadside, everybody would be an enemy to everybody, literally heading towards Hobessian reality.
When the effects of online behavior influence people in real life, the Court has to understand that reasonable restriction should be put on the online behavior of users. Initially, section 66A of the Information Technology Act was such a provision that curbed on the behavior of netizens. However, this provision was misused against many who did positive criticism. Therefore the Supreme Court struck the section down in 2015. However, the Court should rethink it.