Social media sites are gaining popularity in India at an exponential pace and attracting people from every sphere of life — among them are also those with nefarious designs.
Cyberspace, for long, has been misused for various forms of crime — from hacking into government sites to spreading hatred and terror.
The vast and immediate reach of social media platforms has made it the preferred vehicle for miscreants to spread lies and communal hatred. While terrorists and anti-social elements have been quick to misuse the Internet to their advantage, the government has woken up very late to the danger.
The unrest that erupted in Pune over the last fortnight, after derogatory pictures of Chhatrapati Shivaji and Bal Thackeray were uploaded on a social media website, saw a Muslim techie brutally killed. Tension again rose when distorted pictures of BR Ambedkar were uploaded on the Internet.
This is not the first time a social media platform has been used to fan disharmony. In both these cases the police have been able to block the offensive posts but not before the damage was done.
Many cyber cells, like the Social Media Lab of the Mumbai Police, are doing a commendable job of detecting derogatory posts and blocking them before they lead to unrest. But often it is a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Moreover, rather than going after people who ‘like’ a post — like the Nanded Police — the focus should be on tracing its source and taking necessary action. This is difficult given that Internet companies often refuse to part with user information and also such messages are uploaded using proxy servers.
This is where the challenge lies and it is here that the police should focus. In its eagerness to stop people from sharing or liking a post the real culprits should not escape.
The police cyber cells around the country need to pull up their socks.
To tackle these crimes the police should first understand social media and its contours.
It’s a thin line that separates freedom of speech and State-imposed censorship. The easiest — and definitely not the most effective — way to tackle such crimes is to block websites and use Section 66(a) of the IT Act (punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc) against innocent Internet users.