Behind today’s Democratic Secular Republic Socialist Sovereign India lies a ton of tumultuous happenings which includes the unification of around 565 princely states and the war between two neighboring countries. The credit for the present date India goes to the nation’s freedom fighters like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Mahatma Gandhi among many others. A committee headed by B.R Ambedkar drafted the constitution and adopted the same on 26th November 1949 establishing democracy in India. Indian democracy is a government that is elected by the public of the country to regulate law and order in society and the government is answerable to the general public regarding its action. The Indian government is based on a parliamentary system i.e., the House of Representatives (Rajya Sabha) and House of People (Lok Sabha).
The democracy of India rests on four pillars— Legislature; Executive; Judiciary; and Media. In a democracy, citizens enjoy certain freedoms like professing any religion, practicing any profession, residing throughout any territory of India, forming associations, speech and expression, to assemble in any part of India subject to reasonable restriction. Similarly, internet freedom comes into play to protect one’s digital rights, right to access to information, and freedom from censorship on the internet. Indian government must uphold the rights and freedoms provided to citizens with changing times to ensure democracy in Indian society. Nowadays, Internet Democracy or Digital Democracy (E-Democracy) is used for governance which assures effective participation, equality of decision, clarity of issue, and cyber security issues. As youth believes, the internet is a primary source for any event and its easy accessibility and authenticity make it gain influence over the traditional resources. The minimal issues can be reduced by collective decision and problem-solving, resultantly helping the democracy to work efficiently and smoothly.
FREEDOM OF INTERNET
United Nations of Human Rights Council declared Freedom of the Internet as a human right in the year 2012. Especially an addition was made by the UN in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 19 that everyone has a right to express his/her views on any issue going around via any social media platform disregarding any borderline among nations. Section 32 states the protection and promotion of human rights on the internet. The freedom that one enjoys offline must also be able to enjoy the same freedom online.
In the case of Faheema Shirin v. the State of Kerala,1 high court concluded that the right to the internet is a part of a fundamental right. It is covered under Article 19 as well as 21 as it constitutes an essential part of one’s life with changing times. It was argued that if one was given the fundamental right to enjoy something, one must also have enough means to fulfill its purpose too. Bansashree Gogoi v. Union of India2 reveals how an infinite number of petitions were filed in Guwahati High Court against the internet shutdown in Assam. The court opined the order to be lifted due to inconveniences faced by people in their day-to-day life.
The most recent incident of internet shutdown and mobile connectivity in Jammu and Kashmir in order to ensure security in the state also attracted a dispute. The action of the Home Department of Jammu and Kashmir was challenged by Anuradha Bhasin3 on grounds that no reasons were given while passing orders as required. Further, the order passed was based on agitation that the law and order situation would be damaged. The court believed that the state government has no right to pass any order based on its agitation regarding the maintenance of law and order. The government has pledged to be transparent and answerable to the public, therefore, making it an individual’s right to know. While concluding the case Hon’ble Supreme Court quoted that “Prohibition to the internet is a fundamental right but subjected to certain restrictions.”
The government had shut down internet services in the union territory and when resumed, only 2G services were supplied that led to a lot of hassle as most of the work was being done online due to COVID-19. The court took notice of it and asked the government to form a committee to cater to the situation that would also make regulations keeping in mind the needs of petitioners4.
Freedom House was established in the year 1941 and stationed in New York. It’s a governmental organization that aims the promotion of democracy throughout countries of the world. It issues an index showing the freedom of the internet among countries of the world. Iceland (96) topped the list whereas China (10) was at last. Speaking of India, it got a score of 49 out of 100 keeping in mind three indicators i.e., obstacles to accessing the internet, limits provided for content, and violations of user’s rights. India’s rank has been falling for the last two years and yet it has shown no improvement at all.
Social Media is a platform used by people to share their ideas, opinions, suggestions, and information about anything ensuring active participation in decision-making and other issues revolving around the interest of the general public. Social Media was formed to connect people from one person to another in two different corners of the world but with the advancement of technology, the business industry started using it as a medium to reach out to their customers.
In the present-day context, there are over 5.8 billion people around the world using internet facilities. With the existence of COVID-19, the number of users is only going to increase due to the maximum work being done online. Social media gives easy access to information, holding the reasons and answerability of leaders in check regarding issues arising in society. However, everything has its drawbacks; non-regulation of the system leads to the spread of bogus news, targeting minor castes or religions, and resultantly dampens democratic principles.
Traditional Media and Social Media are two different sources that provide us with information about events that took place around the world. Traditional Media is about the news read in a newspaper or shown on T.V or listened to on the radio with the approval of an editor. On Social Media, the content is shared by any user of apps like YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook which he/she deems fit. Traditional Media offers one-way communication and no interaction among its users whereas new media is a two-way communication that allows the interaction between publisher and user. The internet and social media provide people with social networking and a range of opportunities that help in developing the social skills of youngsters.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE INTERNET ENSURE DEMOCRACY
With access to usage of the internet and platform to share ideas, opinions, and suggestions one can use his/her fundamental rights effectively and efficiently. Indian Constitution giving citizens the Right to the Internet under two different fundamental rights itself says a lot about the importance of the internet in the modern world. Article 19 provides Freedom of Speech and Expression to ensure there’s no hindrance to this right, therefore, the government must ensure the means to express the views, suggestions, and ideas must be given by the presence of social media and access to the internet as social media is an internet-based platform. Article 21 provides for the Right to Life and Personal Liberty ensuring the usage of the internet is important for one’s day-to-day life, the internet services, and their speed must meet the level so that no issues arise.
The presence of social media and the internet has two aspects related to the democracy of India— It provides assurance to the general public that their voice is being heard and government can also provide clarity of policy and reasons behind their actions. Discussion among people can easily help with problem-solving, the flow of information about elections, and assets and liabilities of candidates. It allows people to share their opinions but conflicting opinions can lead to hate comments or massive trolling. During elections, candidates may give speeches related to ethnic origin or caste, or religion for vote bank from that particular minority. To limit the spread of bogus information, social media platforms must be held liable for the contents posted on their sites and the government should also form new laws keeping in mind the problems that arise with the usage of the internet and social media.
Social media and usage of the internet are important to one’s life but excess of anything is harmful. Therefore, the freedom given must be with reasonable restrictions. Censorship is one of the main solutions to the problem of the spread of bogus news, anything that violates principles mentioned in the preamble, and many other issues. Yet, people are still divided on the issue of censorship. Some people support censorship as it restricts unlawful behavior, censoring influential content can help in the prevention of publicizing content that may be offensive. Whereas censoring content may also violate privacy, it may restrict the content that other people may not deem offensive or the uncensored content may be inappropriate. It may lead to a loss of originality in one’s content.
1 WP (C) No. 19716 of 2019 (L).
2 2019 SCC OnLine Gau 5584.
3 Anuradha Bhasin v Union of India, AIR 2020 SC 1308.
4 Foundation for Media Professionals v. Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir (2020) SCC online SC 453.
This article is written by Simran Gulia, a BA.LLB student from Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Management Studies.