While expressing the Government’s commitment to freedom of expression on the social media, minister for communications and information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said that cognizance was being taken of the content on the social media intended to provoke mischief.
“One aspect of social media is being misused. We take cognizance of these mischief intended to provoke violence. If newspapers are liable for content published in their paper, social media too must be held responsible for the content,” Prasad said in reply to a Calling attention notice under Rule 180 of the House on ‘Misuse of Social Media Platforms and propagation of fake news causing unrest and violence.
At the same time, he said that the Government was committed to freedom of expression on the social media.
‘’There are many uses of social media. Farmers and students are constructively using social media for education. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has helped numerous people who approached her through social media. I have also used social media to address grievances.
But people have issues even with cartoons. There is a growing trend of stopping counter-narrative. When we can have political debate in the House, why deny it to people,’’he said.
Earlier, members expressed concern that social media was increasingly being used to spread misinformation provoking violence and incidents like lynching in various parts of the country.
Initiating the motion, V. Muraleedharan of the BJP said, “we have seen how Railways and External Affairs Ministries putting social media in good news. But rumours and misinformation are being spread.”
Citing an example, he said, “On April 16, Kerala witnessed a bandh. The violence that erupted that day would perhaps be the largest in the country. No organisation had called for a bandh that day. The government was caught unaware. The bandh call turned out to be a rumour, but it led to large-scale violence affecting innocent people.”
He said that sometime social media was used to deliberately tarnish the image of political rivals. He said that photos of Rawalpindi was shown in this House as that of Bhopal.
“Political parties cutting across the lines must observe restrain so that people can follow them,” he said.
Participating in the discussion, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, referring to incidents of lynching in many parts of the country, said , “it is a shame that such incidents are happening in a civilised country like India.”
Recalling a discussion on lynching during the last Monsoon session, he said, “the cases have only gone up instead of coming down.”
Speaking on the fake news, he said, “how many people have been booked for spreading fake news and rumours.”
Charging the BJP leader of supporting those who indulge in lynching, he said, “BJP leaders have met the accused in jails. A Union Minister garlands lynching convicts. A BJP MP says he would pay the legal chargers of a lynching case accused.”
Manoj Kumar Jha of the RJD said the government could not simply blame social media for the mob violence.
“Mobs won’t abide by laws, it will only take law in their hands,” he said.
D Raja of the CPI said that Social media is a great platform but it is being used to spread hatred, intolerance and social tensions.
“It could have a positive role in community building,” he said.
He said that he was also a victim of false news.
Mr Derek O’Brien of the All India Trinamool Congress described digital India as ‘divisive India’. “The person behind @ippatel, a Twitter handle spreading hate was called to BJP social media meet. Why? Why not ask WhatApp to disclose 1000 groups that spread rumours? Facebook’s largest advertiser is NationwithNamo. Who is paying for it? ,’’he asked.
Vijay Sai Reddy of the YSR Congress party said there was a danger of mass hysteria in social media. “Government has to draw a line between freedom of speech and what is derogatory or seditious. Real news is buried in the avalanche of hoax. There must be a continuous and constant monitoring of the content. Civil society must be taken into confidence,” he said.
M.M. Ragesh of the CPI-M said that most profiles spreading fake news were trying to divide the people on communal lines.