Do we regulate social media or use it to stop hate speech?

After my article this week on the tragic riots in India, purportedly fueled my social media and hate sites, my friend Prasant Naidu offered to write a post with a view from inside the country. I know you’ll enjoy this fascinating and bold blog post.

By {grow} Community Member Prasant Naidu

I am an Indian.

I come from a country that boasts of having the largest democracy and home for four of the world’s major religions. The land that provides shelter to more than 1.2 billion people has been ripped off time and again by opportunists.

At present, India is facing a situation where communal tensions are burning in the North Eastern belt of India. The riots have affected more than 400,000 people and have killed more than 77.  The aftermath has triggered rumors that North Eastern people who are living in other parts of the country are not safe. This led them to press the panic button and we saw thousands of North Easterners rushing back to their homes to save their lives.

The Government of India has blamed social media for spreading hate speech and inciting the riots. This is not the first time that the government has done this and they have already taken action – 245 photo uploading websites have been blocked, 80 plus internet pages and Facebook accounts have been blocked, six parody accounts of the Prime Minister’s Office have been blocked. Subsequently, it has pressured social media giants Facebook, Twitter, and Google to obey them. There is nothing wrong in removing hate speech but the bigger question today is:

1. Riots have happened before social networks were known to humans. So is banning or monitoring the only option?

2. Will this trend of hate speech removal also put a lid on freedom of speech?

Banning or monitoring is not an option

The world has seen social media fuel the Egyptian revolution and then the London riots. Sadly India has not learned from these events. It has not only failed in understanding the dynamics of social media but also how to respond to it. Politicians, still on websites to show their online presence, were caught napping during the Lokpal movement last year. After that the government pulled up its socks but only to create a presence that was blowing its own trumpet. It was not just the government officials but all other members of opposition too who were building a social media presence that wanted to broadcast political messages but did not want to “Listen.”

However, social media is a two-edged sword and things go viral like wildfire. But can’t the government use this viral feature of social media as a weapon against hate? The PMO India is present on Twitter and it can very well use the account to try and kill rumors and boost confidence. There are so many influential Indian celebrities and politicians with whom the government can join hands and start a positive campaign, the way brands these days sell their products on social media via an influential celebrity. Alas the PMO’s Twitter handle is busy tweeting about the Prime Minister’s mundane work schedule!

It’s not that the Indian government is unaware about the positive side of social media. For example, Nirupama Rao, India’s Foreign Secretary used Twitter during the evacuation of Indians at the time of the Libyan crisis.

Are we going to see a new definition of Freedom of Speech in India?

The government is reportedly trying to frame new IT laws where content could be monitored. Earlier in the day, the government had blocked Twitter accounts of journalists and there has been a daylong uproar on Twitter via #GOIBlocks. People are questioning whether the government intends to suppress voices against them under the pretext of hate speech.

So the coming days are going to be interesting. Social media, which has already become a national debate here in India, will see much more happening. The mood can be judged by this tweet from popular author and Twitter celebrity, Chetan Bhagat

chetan bhagat

Welcome to a world that is rapidly changing the way we look at social media.

Prasant Naidu is Founder and Blogger at Lighthouse Insights – a site that exclusively talks about Indian social media news. Loves to experiment in social media and believes social media is a game changer for SME’s. Twitter- @LHInsights.

Illustration: Photo of Delhi’s Red Fort by Mark Schaefer

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  • Nicely written Prasant. It is indeed a scary time, regarding censorship. You did hit the nail on the head though.
    A panic like that can be stilled by the right presence on social media, maybe even very easily. It’s always a few who spoil it for the rest (like football hooligans). The vast majority just uses social media to be.., well.., social and not anti-social.
    But I understand the fear of governments.., aren’t they the same as within companies, just on a greater (and more dangerous) scale?

  • Thanks @twitter-15629338:disqus for your thoughts. it is similar lot of companies are not opening them or live in the world that social media is equal to LinkedIn.the fact that they don’t get that people want the last thing online is a salesman. we have everything today but we don’t have intend. If a small library startup in Pune, India (where I live)can earn subscriptions via their social media then it’s time we think what are we doing wrong. but i have another question can any government in the world implement social media effectively ?

  • The value of Social Media far outweighs the risks, IMO as we saw from many countries in the Middle East during their Arab Winter (my preferred name for much of what has occurred there, especially in Egypt…we’ll see where it ends up in Syria)

  • Genuine people would think like you Bruce but alas governments are run by opportunistic.

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  • The fact we have “chosen” representatives in our government who’s only goal is to be reelected in four years and have no accountability whatsoever makes it almost impossible to provide an honest and responsible social media presence.
    When you would reflect on any actions, decisions or policies than I would have to say ‘No’ to your question.
    But it doesn’t mean it cannot happen. Small, local governments are trying.., but then again, politics will always get in the way and per definition it does not (necessarily) serve the people.

  • DelhiByFoot

    Hi Mark, just a factual error in the pic used. It is not of Delhi’s Red Fort, it is the Tomb of a Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khana, a Mughal nobleman, minister & famous poet in the court of the great Mughal Emperor of India, Akbar. See the details here:,_Delhi.jpg

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  • Thanks for the clarification. It had been awhile since I was in India when i took this photo and I must have missed that fact.

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