Media platforms

Social media platforms: social media must respect the social contract


Microblogging site Twitter seeking legal redress against GoI takedown notices highlights the conflict between the contractual terms agreed upon by social media platforms and their users, and the limits of freedom of expression available in jurisdictions in which they operate.

In a situation of overlapping restrictions, the stricter should ideally prevail. Twitter allegedly argued in court that there were procedural and communication flaws in the Department of Electronics and Information Technology’s (MeitY) objectionable content missives. The platform’s legal challenge follows a GoI ultimatum that Twitter could lose its immunity as an intermediary unless repeated content takedown notices are complied with.

A technical challenge is easily overcome by improving communication between governments and social media platforms. However, things would get complicated if governments had to satisfy social media about legitimate security or law enforcement concerns.

The media operates on self-censorship, and the law only intervenes when that fails. It also examines prejudice disguised as self-censorship. Social media will have to evolve in this direction. Voters, through governments, decide what freedoms they need. The courts guarantee these freedoms. Social media is not the arbiter of freedom of expression. The limits of freedom of expression are set by political, social and cultural foundations, and social media must comply with them.

It is in the interests of governments to minimize their censorship reflex if they want better dissemination of information through technology, which has circumvented the rules of ownership that govern traditional media. Social media is a giant leap forward from its predecessors due to its global reach. But the information it contains will eventually be fragmented by lawmakers.

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