India is in the throes of what Salman Rushdie rightly calls a “cultural emergency.” Writers and artists of all kinds are being harassed, sued and arrested for what they say or write or create. The government either stands by and does nothing to protect freedom of speech, or it actively abets its suppression.
In recent years, the government has cast a watchful eye on the Internet, demanding that companies like Google and Facebook and remove items that might be deemed “disparaging” or “inflammatory,” according to technology industry executives there.
Freedom of expression needs to be promoted with legitimate limitations and in balance with other digital rights within an expanded legal and regulatory framework. There are challenges to deal with liability of intermediaries and governmental surveillance which might undermine freedom of expression.
The ubiquity of the technology goes hand-in-hand with the ubiquity of social media. But with rights come responsibilities. Unchecked, social media can also allow disinformation, slander, racism, incitement to hatred, victimization and a catalogue of ills, some – obviously – more serious than others.
If something incites violence or racism, then it should be prosecuted, regardless of whether it is said in front of physical people or their virtual avatars. But drawing this line is no easy matter.