Shinde crushing media: Social or Electronic, it's still not okay
And while Shinde's hasty backtracking may smooth over a few very ruffled feathers within the media, the fact that he said he 'meant' social media is no less problematic
Sushilkumar Shinde has sought to stem the rising tide of wrath at his remark - that he would 'crush' electronic media that were running an anti-Congress campaign - by saying that he meant social media instead.
"My comments were on Social Media....it was with regards to the issue related to the NE students who were being targeted in Hyderabad and Karnataka," he said on Tuesday. "It's totally wrong, they are maligning me. I have never said such things in my forty years as an MP. Why will I say it now? The media is my friend."
The remark in question, made at a rally in Solapur, was:
"Youngsters should be aware of this propaganda of electronic media. Since I have the intelligence department with me, now I know the source of this propaganda. We have covertly put a stop to it. In the last four months there have been efforts by the media to provoke us (Congress). We will crush such elements in the electronic media, which are indulging in false propaganda, if it does not stop"
And while Shinde's hasty backtracking may smooth over a few very ruffled feathers within the media, who have been lately been coming under attack by a number of prominent personalities, the fact that he said he 'meant' social media is no less problematic. Here's why:
Firstly, his allusion to how the government is using 'intelligence' to 'covertly' put a stop to 'propaganda' is alarming in itself, pointing to an almost NSA like attitude towards social media. Does this mean that in addition to what is already public on Twitter, the government is also using intelligence to get information on what we post on more private forums like Facebook as well? And do these 'covert' operations violate privacy laws?
The fact that it is the Home Minister of the country who is saying this makes these questions all the more valid, and he should be asked to clarify.
Secondly, his comment that social media (we're taking it as a given that he meant social media and not electronic media here) should be crushed, further exemplifies the deeply problematic understanding and relationship that the present government has with social media.
Shinde is not wrong to point out that social media can be problematic and used to spread propaganda and rumours. This was seen to be the case in not just Karnataka, which saw an exodus of Northeast citizens after rumours spread on social media warned that they would be attacked, but also in Muzaffarnagar, where the riots last year were reportedly fanned by a video on social media that purportedly showed a Muslim mob lynching a Hindu boy which went viral. It was later found out that the video in question was not even filmed in India, but by then the damage had already been done.
However, the solution to combat this situation cannot simply be to 'crush' social media. While it certainly presents new challenges to the government, especially in terms of law and order and propaganda, the fact remains that the government cannot simply make social media go away. And technologically it's almost impossible. Where there is a block, there is always a proxy. And let's face it. The government has not proved itself tech savvy enough to be able to block entire social media sites.
What the government needs is a social media strategy and more effective ways of combatting rumours that go viral online. A Congress Khidkee is not the way to go about it. And neither is the draconian section 66A that is framed in vague and sweeping language, which allows law enforcement authorities to interpret it in a subjective manner.
Shinde's statements are no less absurd and problematic than that of his peer Kapil Sibal, who wanted a 'pre-screening' of content by social media before they allowed users to post content on their sites. And it shows a woefully laughable lack of understanding on as to how modern day technology and networking works.
Perhaps, it is time for Shinde to 'pre-screen' his ideas before airing them in public.
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