Monday, March 16, 2009

Lessons in Social Networking

This report in TOI and Outlook was a reminder of how we as a society treat freedom of speech and expression in the web 2.0 world.

Ajit D was a 19 year old blogger who setup an Orkut community called "I hate shiv sena" attracted around 5000 members. There were several posts and discussions by anonymous persons who alleged that Shiv Sena was trying to divide the country on region and caste basis.

Reacting to these posts, the Shiv Sena youth wing's state secretary registered a criminal complaint at Thane police station in August 2008 based on which FIR was registered against Ajith under Sections 506 and 295A pertaining to hurting public sentiment.

In its ruling the supreme court bench said, "We cannot quash criminal proceedings. You are a computer student and you know how many people access internet portals. Hence, if someone files a criminal action on the basis of the content, then you will have to face the case. You have to go before the court and explain your conduct."

While IPC recognises libel, Shiv Sena did not file a case under Sec 499. A case was filed under Sec 506 (If threat be to cause death or grievous hurt, etc) and Sec 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs).

The web 2.0 has brought social networking to the hands of teenagers who are barely out of school. They use the medium like a dairy. They gossip and post entries about their desires and feelings like they would on their dairy, except they now have the ability to attract crowds from around the world who can share their thoughts. This brings with it attendant legal issues like the case above. Do these kids know enough law to be safe rather than sorry?

The most destructive piece was the below

The Bench remained unmoved by the submission that if the case was not quashed, similar cases could be registered in other states and even in foreign countries. "If a case is filed in a foreign country go and face it. You should know what you are doing on internet," the Bench observed

This raises uncomfortable questions on multiple fronts. It would be naive of us to believe the internet is going to consist of social networks whose participants will know the laws of all the countries. If I made a comment on China should I be asked to understand the constitutional rights of China to be able to post? If a person knowing chinese law posted a comment on my site would I be held responsible for that comment even if I didnt know the laws he was operating out of? This kills the whole concept of collaboration to protect a bunch of intolerant people.

Does the supreme court understand the implications of the internet and social networks? Does it understand that the kind of control they want to exert is not acceptable in an internet world?

I dont think the laws of the brick and mortar world can be applied to the world of web 2.0. We are making a big mistake which should be corrected before too much damage is done.
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