Regulating social media

Use of social media networking sites is yet again dominating headlines. The government of India last week rolled out guidelines for social media platforms under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 to hold these platforms accountable for their actions. In the name of controlling the misuse of social media, the strictures under the given legal backing would be implemented within next three months. Remarkably, millions of users across the country are networked through these platforms serving as modern powerful tools of mass communication.

With the advent of technology, social media emerged on the scene with a humble beginning as a simple informal channel of communication where users enjoyed networking with varied group of people, not only within the country but across the globe. The users were delighted to find the social media a hassle free means remaining in touch with nears and dears in real time.

Over a period of time, these platforms were modified and loaded with state-of-the-art features enabling the users to promote and conduct their businesses and other socio-economic activities in real time. Political parties took full advantage of this networking by reaching to millions of people across the country with their agendas. And those with professional capabilities of capitalizing the power of social media reach have reaped the benefit of grabbing the seat of power. In fact, the social media platforms turn into a battlefield for the politicians to push their agendas to woo public (voters) in their favour. The corporate world too boarded the platforms to improve their visibility among the masses.

Precisely, it has basically proved one of the wonders of technology that has provided us seamless convenience of being able to communicate instantly to someone across the world, send a quick text to arrange plans with a friend, post a picture for family to see, or the ability to reconnect with someone. Everybody is free to post anything from any place in the world on the social media network and in a jiffy people come to know about even small and insignificant happenings taking place at a geographically remote location. As far as ‘news’ content is concerned, we see a lot of stuff, surprisingly even a domestic dispute, on this network going viral.

There is no doubt that power of social media is enormous and makes things/ happenings viral. But what is the impact of these viral posts? The first thing is that people across the globe get to know about the situation. Most of them do talk about the incident and even they comment on such posts. We may even see a debate ignited on the social network sites. But all this ‘viral theory’ loses steam after few hours. The reason is bombardment of other posts  from the other innumerable players engaged on the social network platform. The posts are uploaded at lightening speed, which most of the times either makes one to lose sight or forces them to ignore these posts.

Precisely, social media networks successfully engage people, but there is a question mark on its social impact on the communities and societies which it can trigger. If we analyze the posts uploaded on this platform, most of the times we come across such stuff in the form of a rant, a vent, or just a form of seeking validation for thoughts posted by the social media activities.

In other words, in the sidelines of all good happening on the social media networking sites, filthy content has occupied its own space. Even cyber criminals have jumped on the platform to dupe users of their hard earned money. Precisely, today these sites have become a breeding ground for fraudsters to commit criminal offenses and escape unidentified.

There is another aspect of social networking sites breeding negativity among the users. We create a lot of ‘friends’, ‘followers’ and ‘likes’ through the content posted on these sites. Unfortunately, we have fallen to a trap of negativity and falsehood while being on the platform, as negative and sensational content lures the audience to check your posts. We measure the success of our posts in terms of huge audience. If we go by this theory that our posts attract huge audience on the social media sites, then we seem to be in control of our audience as it’s our discretion to allow them to be our ‘followers’ or ‘friends’. But, actually, it’s not so. It’s the audience which controls us. It’s their judgment and response to our posts which defines us as a personality on this platform.

We have become addicts like a drug addict to measure our self esteem on the basis of the comments, shares and likes we get for our activities on the social media. If we don’t get desired attention for our activities, we feel a sense of being alone or left out. And that’s exactly why social media is so appealing to everyone. It’s a simple psychological need to want to fit in and feel accepted. Wanting to feel accepted isn’t wrong, it’s how we go about it in this generation that is damaging.

So, one should not be a victim of illusion of a perfect life while playing on social media with his appointed audience. You may have created an online empire where your audience worships you and shower appraisal and compliments constantly on your posts, but. be sure, it’s not real. You are in a virtual world. Someone has rightly said that ‘a strong self-esteem is not destroyed by others and low self-esteem is not built by others.’

Just do a reality check while browsing social media sites, be it Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. I am sure that you would conclude most of the times you wasting so much time flipping through with nothing to gain.

However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make use of social media. The only thing is to realize its enormous power for creating impact on the society for betterment. It’s a perfect platform to transform societies in  line with the contemporary world. We should not allow ourselves to get distracted from our own present and not allow ourselves to focus on other’s pasts.

There is need to adopt self-regulation measures. Let social media be used to make a conscience effort to reach out to your genuine friends through genuine interaction. Don’t allow opinions of other people, which are mostly judgmental in nature, to dictate your own existence.

Meanwhile, let me encapsulate the new guidelines making the social sites accountable and attracting criticism from various quarters.

Platforms such as WhatsApp have to mandatorily help the government in getting a hold of the ‘originator’ of ‘harmful & ‘illegal’ messages.

This guideline has direct bearing on the digital security of people in the country. It will simply weaken encryption. Experts believe that breaking end-to-end encryption would give a ‘green light to criminals and hostile actors to exploit confidential and sensitive information’ of the users.

In other words, making the social media platforms to obey with these traceability requirements, platforms may be forced to undermine end-to-end encryption and this makes a fertile ground for cyber criminals.

Another guideline envisages that platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are required to remove any content which contains illegal information within 36 hours after they’ve been notified about the same. Others will have to acknowledge it in the given time frame but can resolve the issue within 15 days. They will also have to provide information related to verification of identity, and this has to be done within 72 hours to legally authorized agencies.

Making the social sites to remove filthy content makes a sense. Most of the times we find war of words and unreasonable clash of ideologies on these sites which ultimately results in mud slugging and at times human values thrown to the wind.

As per the new guidelines, OTT platforms have been rightly asked to divide their content into five categories based on age. In accordance with these categories, parental locks and age verification locks will be implemented.

All the content which the different OTTs generate needs to be mindful of the country’s sovereignty and their relationship with other countries. OTT content will have to go through a three-level grievance redressal mechanism.

The news which is being broadcasted on OTT will have to keep the guidelines put forth by the Press Council of India as well as the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act in mind, and create content accordingly.

This guideline should discourage telecast of fake and sensational news, which creates unrest among societies and communities.

In succinct, the new guidelines need to be re-aligned in accordance with the privacy and digital security of the users. The rules must not put curbs on freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in our constitution.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)