Supreme Court Rejects Plea To Ban Social Network; But Asks Govt Can WhatsApp, Facebook Be Prosecuted For Offensive Content?
A very interesting question has come up before our judicial system:
Can social networks like Whatsapp, Facebook be prosecuted for the spread of hateful, vulgar and offensive content via their platform?
A Hyderabad-based NGO, Prajwala, has filed a PIL in Supreme Court, asking these social networks to be banned as these portals/apps are not checking the content which is being shared on their platform, and thereby causing harm to the society.
Two specific cases have been mentioned: the case of circulating videos of rape in Mumbai using Whatsapp, and a case wherein a pedophile racket in Kerala was busted on Facebook.
Although cases were filed against the concerned persons, but no action was taken against the social network for ‘enabling’ the sharing of these content and activities.
Pleas to Ban Social Network Quashed
A social justice bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and U U Lalit has quashed the move to block these social networks, as this is certainly not the solution; and it will reflect a very poor judicial image of the country. The bench said, “You are now asking blocking of sites. You may later on ask for banning mobile phones. Its not a solution and it cannot be done,”
However, this bench has asked the Government whether these social networks can be prosecuted for enabling the share of such content.
The two above mentioned cases have been mentioned by the Supreme Court, and asked the Govt. to respond. Head of the Prajwala NGO, Sunitha Krishnan have demanded that Govt. should ask these social networks to put a control on the content which is being shared via their platform, and to regulate it.
Responding to the PIL, Supreme Court has asked Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh find out why Whatsapp and Facebook were not booked under these cases from Mumbai and Kerala.
The bench said, “Let the government first respond to the issue and then we will consider”
Is Govt. Helpless on Offensive Content?
In the past, Govt. has acted recklessly, whenever it came to porn or offensive content. In 2013, Indian Govt. put a blanket ban on several porn sites and forums; which also included several of those sites which allowed only uploading and downloading of content.
The same year, a petition was filed to amend IT act in order to permanently ban porn in the country.
Last year, Govt. asked all ISPs to ban porn access, which created huge uproar in the nation, as the freedom of choice was directly threatened. This year, Govt. again ordered all ISPs to block 857 websites, which was termed as ‘Talibanization’ Of Internet Freedom’.
Later, Govt. passed the responsibility to the ISPs, as they asked them only block child porn, and all all other types of porn access.
In the past, Govt. has expressed their inability to identify those who upload offensive or vulgar content on these social networks as they said once the content is uploaded using a mobile, it becomes almost impossible to track the offenders.
In September this year, Govt. created a special task force called Cyber Crime Coordination Centre or IC4 and allocated a budget of Rs 400 crore to curb the menace of child porn in the country.
It would be interesting to observe how Centre responds to this fresh salvo from Supreme Court regarding offensive content, and how this menace can be stopped or controlled.