Social Media Screening and Government

07 Dec

Well, we always think that things would improve over time and people get wiser. But there are occasional corrective events that help us refine such a thought process of ours.

One such event of recent times is Mr. Sibal’s directive to the social networking sites on social media screening. There is a mention of upcoming “code of conduct” in that said meeting.

There are several flaws in that directive of Mr. Sibal that social media should screen out the objectionable content and a code of conduct is on the way.

First – content on social media is not owned or controlled or editable by a few companies. The companies may host the presentation of the content, but not the content itself. The actual content might be linked, syndicated or cross-referenced from elsewhere.

Second – the code of conduct is not easy to define. Laws are relatively easy to define, but not the code. Code is a collection of guidelines that may keep changing over time or based on situation. We see lot of amendments for laws themselves. A definition of code of conduct, by nature, is likely to go through much more amendments and changes over time. Defining the code of conduct is not a one time process.

Third – The code of conduct is not easy to enforce. We have seen the law enforcement itself takes considerable amount of resources. Law enforcement is needed for a relatively smaller set of people in the society and even then we struggle in ensuring resources for law enforcement. Code of conduct usually covers a bigger group of (often well qualified) people and it is a mighty task to enforce code of conduct. None of the social media companies might be equipped with such a large set of resources.

Fourth – Abiding by the code of conduct is not a top-down paradigm. It is always a across-the-board or bottom-up phenomenon. There is no way a subset of the involved parties can enforce code of conduct. There should be active participation from all stakeholders to maintain the code of conduct. (Note that the word maintain is used here rather than the word enforce.)

There are several other flaws, but I think I made my point already. I don’t support even an iota of irresponsible content in the cyberspace. More so when it has the potential to create rifts based on socioeconomic and religious planks. However, there is a huge difference between ensuring people write responsible content and ensuring responsible content by enforcement.

If the Government has enough will to draft a code of conduct, it should take that code to the masses, not to the companies. It should socialize the code, but should not try to enforce it using the arms of the companies.

Personally, I am curiously waiting for the code. Most of my excitement comes from the claim that freedom of speech is upheld when an author’s work on some verses is banned and freedom of speech is also upheld when a painter got away when he maligned the images of a goddess. Now I want to see the standards used for defining the code of conduct.

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