The Mumbai police’s decision to set up a dedicated cell to monitor social networking sites has elicited strong, but varied reactions from social media users.
While most users have condemned the very idea of it, some feel it can bring about more disciplined use of the medium.
“They (authorities) have finally woken up to the power of social media, which has the ability to threaten the existing power structure,” said film-maker Mahesh Bhatt, who is active on Twitter. “Any form of control by the government is always in the guise of ‘public interest’, but this shows that they are frightened.”
Cyber and law experts agree that there is a need to monitor social media, but warn that police would have to follow several legal procedures to ensure they do not violate privacy of people.
Cyber expert Vijay Mukhi said that police needed different rules for various social media. While Twitter and Google allow public viewing, Facebook has privacy settings so checking those accounts will need a different set of regulations. Also, he said, the sheer volume — 200 million tweets a day and 1.3 billion Facebook users — would be a challenge for the police.
Popular voices on social media also criticised the step. “If people want to create trouble on social media, they can easily do it through fake accounts,” said Netra Parikh, 46, who has more than 15,000 followers on Twitter. “Such a step infringes on freedom of expression since people who opine strongly through online media will now need to be careful,” she said.
However, other active social media users didn’t entirely denounce the decision. “I don’t think the intention is to muzzle the freedom of expression, and everything depends on how the cell monitors social media,” said Girish Mallya, who has more than 3,500 Twitter followers. “Police should also check the abuse of social media.
Several people put up graphic and despicable quotes and there should be a mechanism in place to take note of such abuses.”