There is a continuing disturbing trend of governments getting more involved with social media, and users of the Internet in general as of late. First, there was the Google Transparency Report that showed how governments around the world, most notably the United State and India, are keeping track of the activities of users.
Also last week was the bizarre social media battle that occurred between the belligerents of the battle occurring in Gaza right now between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas. While bombs are going off in Israel, the sides have also used Twitter as a tool to get their message out to one another and the rest of the world. This has caused a sort of spectator battle, and one that has given rise to plenty of controversy.
But now, a new governmental intervention is taking place, and it has launched a string of protests and discussion in India. On Sunday, two women were arrested in Mumbai after one Shadeen Dhadha has put up a post on her Facebook wall criticizing the political shutdown of the city.
The shutdown of Mumbai, also known as a Bandh, was ordered after the death of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray. Shiv Sena is one of India’s right-wing political groups who is known for having an unspoken influence over the city, and for that, they have been met with much criticism.
Dhadha had made her point on Facebook that the city had shut down more over fear than respect for Thackeray, and that people like him die everyday with barely any acknowledgement. This post alone led to her arrest, as well as the arrest of her friend only identified as Renu for liking Dhadha’s post.
Though the two have been released on bail, the actions by the Indian government have been met with a large amount of worldwide criticism. The two women were arrested under several Indian laws, the largest being section 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code – a law that punishes alleged provocation between classes within the nation.
Another law, most related to the Internet, was under a section the Information Technology Act that considers certain online speech that is considered to be “grossly offensive”.
The action taken up against Dhadha and her friend reveals the growing dark side of social media in a society that would otherwise deem it to be free and open. Of course, the Internet/social media has legitimate restrictions that aim to protect the overall safety of people, but this sort of action is not validated at all. How involved should governments be when it comes to social media – if at all?
One might argue that Shiv Sena’s influence over Mumbai is an explanation in itself for the action, but then where are the limits for anyone else? As mentioned at the beginning of this post, Google’s Transparency Report revealed the United States and Indian governments had sent thousands of requests to Google asking for user information regarding political member/party criticisms.
Social media was meant to serve as a platform for open thought and discussion. Are we entering the age where we have to be afraid to do what we once thought was liberating?