The freedom of speech and expression gave to us by the Constitution allows every one of us to speak and give our opinions freely. But when any person crosses the line set by the law he/she is bound to be held responsible for the same. The Constitution gives us the right but it also puts up restrictions on free speech and expression, so are the other laws given in different statutes. In the current scenario where one can put up his/her opinion freely, the necessity of such laws has also increased. The social media network has been a boom and now is a platform for many people. They are connected to the whole world. With such power in their hands, people tend to misuse it and it results against them. The article would shed light on the spreading or sharing of anti-national content through social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, etc.
The advancement of technology in the past few decades has been exemplary and has impressed everyone. A great gift given to us by this technology is the internet which has been a network for the whole world to connect. Along with the internet, soon came the social media network. At present, there is a buffet of social media websites in front of every one person who has an internet connection and a device to use it. Anyone who is above 13 years of age can make an account on sites like Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook. They can share their photos, videos, and other things as per the guidelines of that website.
The reason why people like social media is because it gives them all a feeling of being connected to the world every time. The 24*7 engagement which it provides people along with an unending pool of content makes a person hooked to those sites. Also, it is a place where you can freely share your opinions which will be open for the world to read, see, or hear.
The outrage of Anti-National Messages on Social Media
In the past few years, the amount of engagement that social media has received is very high. This increase has led to an increase in the sharing of anti-national content in the country. A report was submitted by the government of India to the Supreme Court in October 2019. It was a 27-page affidavit that stated that the internet has been a reason behind the rise of hate speech and anti-national activities. The government has also stated that the internet has come up as a “potent tool to cause unimaginable disruptions to the democratic polity”, and there are rules necessary to be revised for the effective regulation of intermediaries because of “every growing threat to individual rights and nation’s integrity, sovereignty and security.” The government also decided to finalize rules for better regulation of social media.
How Social Media is Responsible for the Increase in Anti-National Messages
The reason due to which such outrage occurs on social media is because people think they can give any statement, does not matter how politically controversial or problematic, by maintaining their identity anonymous. People create fake accounts by filling up the wrong details wondering that they would not get caught as their identity would remain a secret, and when they speak up or share the content which is very much against the nation’s interests.
Every social media website has its own set of community guidelines that regulate the type of content which has to be posted or shared on their respective sites. Twitter, Instagram, TikTok all have their guidelines to monitor the content. Any post which violates the guidelines gets removed from the website, and in grievous offenses, the account is terminated. Some people try to find loopholes in the guidelines while others do not even consider taking the guidelines seriously.
The lack of strictness of guidelines in these websites has led to the spread of anti-national content. The terms given in the guidelines are vague and it sometimes becomes difficult to interpret them. Also, people try to hide behind the freedom of speech given to them by the Constitution, and they try to evade any form of accusation by presenting that their content comes under free speech.
Also, there have been instances where social media itself have been accused of promoting anti-national content. In February 2020, Hyderabad Cyber Crime Police has filed a complaint against Twitter, Instagram, and Whatsapp and has alleged that these sites have been allowing people to upload and post messages and videos that are against “Nation and Religion”
On 18 October 2020, Twitter was found in a controversy where it showed Jammu and Kashmir as a part of China.
Laws that Governs the Free Speech and Expression in India
In India, there are two major laws which govern the freedom of speech and prevention of anti-national messages
- The Constitution of India (Article 19 (1) (a) , Article 19 (2))
- Indian Penal Code (Section 124A)
The Constitution of India
The Constitution of India provides Article 19(1) (a) which states that
“All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”.
This clause of the article provides the right to every citizen to have free speech to give their opinions and express themselves rightfully. Article 19(2) give the restrictions which are there for clause Article 19(1) (a).
Article 19(2) states that
“Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the [sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or about contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offense]”
The clause puts up a restriction on the freedom that is enjoyed by the citizens of the country. The content which is labeled as anti-national, in some way undermines this clause which makes the person who creates or shares such content liable. There have been many cases where the accused has tried to escape his/her liability by stating Article 19 (1) (a) but the content which is in question does not comply with the conditions mentioned in Article 19 (2), therefore it does not come under freedom of speech and expression.
Indian Penal Code
Under Section 124A, the code has stated that
“Sedition.—Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, [***] the Government established by law in [India], [***] shall be punished with [imprisonment for life], to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.
Explanation 1.—the expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
Explanation 2.—Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offense under this section.
Explanation 3.—Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offense under this section.”
As the explanations rightly point out that any positive and constructive criticism against the government established by law, no matter how strong, would not amount to sedition. That is because there is no feeling of inciting a feeling of hatred among the people concerning the government. As mentioned in the case of Kedarnath Singh v. the State of Bihar, “Someone’s statement criticizing the government does not invoke an offense of sedition or defamation.”
For any act to be seditious, it has to have these essential ingredients-
- Bringing or attempting to bring into hatred, or
- Exciting or attempting to excite disaffection against the government of India,
- Such act or attempt may be done (a) by words, either spoken or written, or (b) by signs, or (c) by visible representations, and
- The act must be intentional
These laws make sure that the right to freedom of speech and expression that is given does not get abused by the people. If there are no restrictions put up by the government, then the democracy will get in danger because the government established by law would get subverted.
How to Control the Spread of Such Content
India comprises of different cultures, religions, regions, ethnicity, etc. The diversity in the country results in people having different views on political and national topics. Due to this diversity, it becomes very hard to control the controversies which come up. Also, social media companies try to maintain leniency in their guidelines so that people do not feel shackled while using them and share what they like. Only extreme content is considered a violation of the guidelines. The companies do not want to lose the engagement which they have on their websites. To maintain control over such practices, instead of giving these companies freedom to make their own rules, the government should establish certain rules which cover the nature of content to be posted on these sites. Those laws can be made applicable to every website so that there is no difference in rules on different sites.
Another problem that has to be considered in the interpretation of the law of sedition i.e. Sec 124A of IPC. The definition and meaning of sedition are not clear to many people which makes it difficult to follow. The definition of sedition does not take into consideration disaffection towards (a) the Constitution (b) the legislatures, and (c) administration of justice
By considering the following two issues the government can create a concrete boundary and set of rules which everyone has to comply with and which will also make people more responsible in the sharing of content over social media.
Social media is a great tool to share opinions and information all around the internet only if it is used by the people wisely. In the end, the people who use social media and every person’s views are not the same. Different views and opinions lead to conflicts and clashes. If people do not respect each other’s opinions or views then the websites are bound to become toxic. Having said that, the reach of social media itself can be used to great advantages. The public can convey its views regarding any matter by sharing the content which they consider correct. Hate speech or Anti-national content can be reduced if the people learn to respect each other’s opinions and give positive, constructive criticism to these opinions.
- Is anti-national content the same as hate speech?
- Do Social Media websites work to stop such content?
- Can an opinion made against the Government be termed as Anti-National?
- Will anti-national content stop if people stop using social media?
- “Internet behind the rise in ‘hate speech’ and anti-national activities”, https://theprint.in/india/internet-behind-rise-hate-speech-anti-national-activities-modi-govt-in-sc/309634/
- “The Twitter Rules,” https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/twitter-rules
- “Community Guidelines,” https://www.facebook.com/help/instagram/477434105621119/
- “Community Guidelines,” https://www.tiktok.com/community-guidelines?lang=en
- “Case filed against Twitter, TikTok, WhatsApp for allowing anti-national content” https://www.indialegallive.com/top-news-of-the-day/news/case-filed-twitter-tiktok-whatsapp-allowing-anti-national-content/
- “Twitter location tag pins J&K as part of China” https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/twitter-location-tag-pins-jk-as-a-part-of-china/articleshow/78739074.cms
- The Constitution of India
- Indian Penal code
- Textbook on Indian Penal Code by K.D gaur
- “Internet behind rise in ‘hate speech’ and anti-national activities”, https://theprint.in/india/internet-behind-rise-hate-speech-anti-national-activities-modi-govt-in-sc/309634/
-  “The Twitter Rules,” https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/twitter-rules
-  “Community guidelines,” https://www.facebook.com/help/instagram/477434105621119/
-  “Community guidelines,” https://www.tiktok.com/community-guidelines?lang=en
-  “Case filed against Twitter, TikTok, WhatsApp for allowing anti-national content” https://www.indialegallive.com/top-news-of-the-day/news/case-filed-twitter-tiktok-whatsapp-allowing-anti-national-content/
-  “Twitter location tag pins J&K as a part of China”, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/twitter-location-tag-pins-jk-as-a-part-of-china/articleshow/78739074.cms
-  The Constitution of India, 1950 “Article 19 (1) (a)”, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1378441/
-  The Constitution of India, 1950 “Article 19 (2)”, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/493243/
-  Substituted by Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951
-  Inserted by the Constitution (16th Amendment) Act, 1963, w.e.f 5-10-1963
-  Indian Penal Code, “Section 124A”, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1641007/
-  The words “He Majesty or” omitted by the A.0 1950. The words “or the Crown Representative” ins. after the words “Majesty” by the A.O. 1937 were omitted by the A.O. 1948.
-  The words “British India” have successfully been subs. By the A.O. 1948, the A.O1950 and Act 3 of 1951, section 3 and schedule (w.e.f 1-4-1951), to read as above
-  The words “or British Burma” omitted by the A.O. 1948. Earlier the words “or British Burma” were inserted by the A.O. 1937.
-  Subs. By Act 26 i=of 1965, sec. 177 and sch. , for “transportation for life or any shorter term” (w.e.f 1-1-1956)
-  Kedarnath v. State of Bihar, AIR 1962 SC 955
-  Textbook on Indian Penal Code by K.D Gaur, “suggestion for amendment of section 124A” page no. 383