Six Twitter accounts, having resemblance to the prime minister’s official account ‘PMOIndia’, have been closed down after objectionable content was detected on these.
The PMO had asked Twitter to shut down these accounts but after it was not done, the matter was referred to the Cyber Security Cell.
Here we go, back to the old freedom of speech debate in the context of social media.
The protests come thick and fast, almost suggesting that there should be no laws to govern social media and that all on social media can do and say whatever they choose to.
That’s patently wrong.
In the current instance, there are clear suggestions of ‘passing off’, where users are attempting to impersonate the Prime Minister’s official twitter handle.
If someone uses the twitter handle @PM0India, using a zero instead of the capital letter ‘O’, and, to add to the confusion, uses a photograph of the prime minister as his display photograph, it is a clear case of passing off. To a lay person, @PM0India, at a glance, will read as @PMOIndia.
Under the Indian Trademarks Act 1999, “The passing off action depends upon the principle that nobody has a right to represent his goods as the goods of somebody. In other words a man is not to sell his goods or services under the pretence that they are those of another person,” says Lawyers Club India.
This is not parody. This is a case where someone intentionally attempts to represent his account as the official account of the prime minister.
To see what parody is, take the case of Rake$£ Jhunjhunwala (@jhunjhunwala)
“I INVENTED TWITTER & attained OMNI GOD Mode.Aspire,Don’t envy|Disclaimer:I am Sir Aditya Magal & Fake Jhunjhunwala.The Real Parody Writer of The Secret Journal,” is how he describes himself. If one sees the image on the twitter page and reads the descriptor, there is no doubt that this user has no connection with the famed finance and stock market guru Rakesh Jhunjhunwala.
Let parody handles state that they are so. Let them not use images of the prime minister. As long as they do neither, let them have their fun, let them spoof the PM, and let those who follow these accounts get entertained by the updates.
The government, as is their wont, is going overboard. They’ve used the opportunity afforded by the unrest in the north-eastern states (provoked, in part, by social media) to clamp down on parody handles. “These accounts contained certain content having communal overtones and it could be dangerous,” a source said.
The government is mixing up two issues. Parody accounts and accounts with allegedly objectionable content.
The two need to be dealt with differently.
As far as the parody accounts are concerned, there is no need for the government to shut down these accounts. Twitter will not help – and nor should they. However, if there is an element of passing off, the government could explore taking action for misuse of the image of the PM – that’s about it.
‘Content having communal overtones’ is a motherhood statement. Indeed, a large part of the content on MSM could be defined, should one choose to, as ‘having communal overtones’.
Here too, twitter will do nothing – and nor should they. Unless, of course, the government goes to court and proves that the content is dangerous and incendiary. Merely being ‘communal’ is not breaking the law of the land – and the law of the land would need to be broken before twitter takes action.
Either way, in the case of entertaining parody accounts or in the case of those which allegedly foment tension, the government should not resort to shortcuts, as they are now doing. Proceed according to the laws of the land – and let the law take its course.