It’s time to regulate hate speech on social networks | Opinion – analysis
Online forums are often looked at in a vacuum, but they are simply a reflection of society. In India, polarizing content and hateful material on the Internet has proliferated in the recent past. The opinions that an individual would hold back before for fear of social reaction have now found their safe spaces online. The Internet hosts a variety of extreme statements.
Today’s social media is abuzz with toxic and hateful conversations. Stopping hate speech and false news has become a critical challenge for governments worldwide. But this is not just a technological problem; It is also a social problem. In 2019, a terrorist opened fire in two mosques that killed at least 49 faithful and wounded dozens more in Christchurch, New Zealand. The aftermath of such terrorist attacks led to a new debate on how governments and civil society should try to reduce hate speech on the Internet. The attack was broadcast live on Facebook by the author. In fact, the entire attack seemed orchestrated for the era of social media. Before it took place, a publication in the 4chan anonymous message panel, a particularly lawless forum that often presents racist and extremist publications, seemed to anticipate horror. The publication was linked to an 87-page manifesto full of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim ideas, and directed users to a Facebook page that organized a live broadcast of the attack. Twitter posts also seemed to announce the attack. Finally, Facebook and Twitter removed the video, but not before it was seen by most of the world.
Countries around the world have already begun to recognize the theme of hate speech and false news and how it affects the functioning of society. Germany and France have some of the strictest policies in this regard. NetzDG or the Network Compliance Act in Germany guarantees strong prohibitions against hate speech, including the spread of pro-Nazi ideology. It provides strict deadlines for deletion, but also provides for an extension of that deadline in case additional data is needed to determine the veracity of the information. The basis for deciding whether any material violates the law is based on its criminal code. When surveyed, most of the complaints received in Germany were related to hate speech or political extremism, quite similar to India.
France, on the other hand, has a transparency obligation for digital platforms, where platforms must publish the name and the amount paid by the author in case the content is sponsored. With respect to false news, France has a law of 1881 that defines the criteria for establishing that the news is false and deliberately disseminated on a large scale. In this case, a court order is created to quickly stop the dissemination of such news. These nations are among the most proactive in content regulation. It is necessary to achieve this level of efficiency, respecting the freedoms of all involved, from individual companies to social networks.
It is undeniable that the consequences of the narrative that takes shape on online platforms, most of the time, have implications in real life. Back home in India, in 2018, the spread of rumors about child traffickers, through the popular WhatsApp messaging platform, caused a series of lynchings in rural areas. More recently, during the electoral campaign that preceded the Delhi legislature elections, an official election rally drew crowds with the use of the slogan “Desh ke gadaaron ko, Goli maaro saalon ko“However, in the days after this demonstration, a young man translated these words into reality by opening fire on protesters at Jamia Millia Islamia University, highlighting once again how hate speech has real consequences.
Fake news and hate content in India are mainly related to a person’s caste, gender or religion, which are sensitive issues for most of us. In addition, regulations to address these problems are insufficient and are also dispersed in multiple acts and regulations under the Indian Criminal Code, the Information Technology Law and the Criminal Procedure Code. The need is to harmonize and unify existing laws. In addition, it is necessary to amend the draft rules of intermediate standards to address modern forms of hate content that proliferate on the Internet. The reactive approach in the Shreya Singhal trial gave the direction on how hate content should be regulated and the government should follow this direction, where the user informs the intermediary and the platforms remove it after following due process. The current legislative approach ignores due process and, therefore, is subject to abuse by the government. While security is fundamental, privacy is a right guaranteed by the Constitution and it is imperative that the government balance privacy and security in the future.
We have now reached a juncture in which members of the ruling party use hate speech in their efforts to gain support. Hate, vitriol, and falsehoods are commonly passed down to influence emotions and influence people. However, from these examples, we see that such discourse has and will have consequences. Therefore, it is imperative that the government recognize the threat of hate speech and ensure that there is adequate regulation to address the problem. While the intermediate guidelines proposed by the government are a step in the right direction, much remains to be desired in a comprehensive framework to address the problem and safeguard the freedoms of citizens.
Gaurav Gogoi is Member of Parliament and Leader of Congress
The opinions expressed are personal.