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Moderating Speech

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Those visiting the US will now have to provide their social media accounts to the immigration authorities to obtain a visa. This indicates the significance social media holds today in ascertaining the ideological and psychological predilections of people. So often, the police and intelligence agencies are berated for having ignored clear indications in social media posts by those who have eventually carried out murderous attacks on innocent people. In some cases, the posts have been red-flagged by other users and even studied by the security agencies, but timely action has not been taken. People ask why clearly stated murderous intent and hate speech do not provoke a fitting response. The reasons are many, which include fear of being accused of racial profiling, shortage of human resources to track the many suspects, lack of space in jails, etc. Also, the judiciary in many countries has become very politically correct and tries to ‘even the balance’ so that it does not face criticism from highly articulate sections of society. Human rights such as freedom of speech have become a fetish even to the point of disregarding common sense responses. This increases the challenge of the security agencies manifold, as failure to pre-empt criminal acts can have serious consequences. In India, there is no law that separately provides rights to journalists. Their rights flow from the freedom of speech guaranteed in the Constitution to every citizen. This right is not absolute and functions under ‘reasonable restrictions’. These have been tested multiple times in the courts, but there is still not clarity in how much this freedom can tend to the absolute. Even in the US, where this is supposedly the case, there are other ways used to restrict speech, such as very effective public opinion campaigns, immediate loss of employment, etc. Indians, in personal interactions, have a very low threshold regarding insults of any kind. The anonymity and distance provided by social media has led to an explosion of abuse which, if extended to communities, has the potential to spark communal and other kinds of riots. As such, to demand high falutin standards of ‘tolerance’ over social media in an otherwise explosive environment is foolish and irresponsible. If this were not the case, why is social media the first to be switched off during communal riots and such like? It is also an unfortunate truth that, worldwide, standards are enforced differently, depending on political sensitivities. There is a silent majority that goes unheard. It is foolish – in the context of what the repercussions can be – for India to try and enforce practices – in legal and social conduct – that are alien to its culture and practices.