The Telecom Minister of the world’s largest democracy, India, recently asked social media websites to self regulate content on their channels. The request, as many of us must have witnessed and even participated in – has resulted in international debate on the subject and widespread protest across new media channels. Cyberspace has been abuzz with sarcastic humour and caustic comments on the government’s attempt (arguably) to clamp down freedom of speech and expression – many accusing India of imitating China.India vows crackdown on offensive internet content
Now in the muddled world of Indian politics, I am still not sure exactly what Kapil Sibal means by ‘self regulation’ and ‘not censorship’. However, on the face of it, regulation – a synonym for moderation – is a good word to me. Very much like a code of conduct. It reflects a promise of good practice. The challenge lies in defining what is acceptable and what is not.
Traditional press has long battled with the concept of regulation all over the world. The line between a story in public interest and that which borders on defamation or sensation has always been thin. Television further closed that gap with its appetite for 24×7 sound bytes and the concept of breaking news. News stories have been dropped, charges filed against editors, corporate organisations and governments covered their tracks. On the other side of the fence, news has also been fabricated, stories published on the back of lame evidence and malpractices indulged in the hunger for that perfect scoop.
The explosion of social media has changed the game in this industry. The scope of media multiplication has increased a million fold. We acknowledge Facebook as our new medium to seek information, share and form opinions. Each post or picture shared with friends, every tweet tells a story. And as a reader should we then not expect and hope that story to be credible and not just an act of vengeance or spiteful defamation? If we acknowledge social media websites to be the new age media – taking over from the BBC’s , NYT’s and Wall Street journals as our source of daily digest – is it not but sensible that we bring in a certain sense of responsibility and regulation on this forum? These are just a few decisions requiring attention by social media honchos as this genre of media moves from infancy to being a teenager.
Coming back to Mr. Sibal. The idea of content regulation is noble. It’s the who and the what that requires debate and open discussion. A blog discussing Dr. Manmohan Singh as a weak Prime Minister is not defamation; it is infact today for a lot of India a matter of great concern. On the other hand, inviting friends and fellow trouble makers to participate in loot and riots in London (or anywhere else in the world) is definitely an act requiring urgent regulatory action.
Now this I am not sure about.
Personally, light hearted fun should not get any government’s goat. There are other important battles to fight, Sir. After all comic strips on politicians have always been a part and parcel of our world? Maybe we can do a poll for public opinion – on Facebook/ Twitter ofcourse!