By Ananya S Guha
IIM Ahmedabad had taken a bold step by inviting the two Mumbai college students, who had made a `controversial` statement after Bal Thackeray`s demise, and subsequently arrested, by inviting them for a talk. Thereafter, that is after the arrest, the Supreme Court made an intervention, and the Government retracted by having a relook at the IT Act. Recently the IT Minister made a statement saying that there has been an abuse of freedom of speech in social networking sites.
The question is: What is the prime objective of such sites?
Some say it is networking, others feel that it is reconnecting with old friends, with whom one has lost touch. Others use them for a parallel `journalism` loosely put, where photographs, reports of events etc are uploaded. Many others use them to uphold `causes ` garnering public support or signatures for what they think are justifiable causes. Writers and litterateurs use them to promote creative writing, and to share their events and writing. Academics use them to promote their journals, and invite authors to write. So do editors of magazines and literary journals. Some use them to express opinions on political and social happenings
In the process the aim of these sites are not specific, nor avowed. They become a mass of information, ideas, tidbits from day to day lives affecting personal lives. They also share lighter moments, like humour and also lifestyles, personal moodiness or even unhappiness! For example a study in the UK showed that young people tended to share their more depressing moments. Another study in the same country, revealed that Facebook discovered an astonishing generation of young poets, set apart from the established literati.
The question is, what to write and how to write without defamation and hurting sensibilities?
This becomes difficult, if not complex when controversial events take place, or when a social revolution as in Egypt or Libya, is in the offing. So such networking sites perhaps cannot be divorced from some kind of activism, and online activism is becoming popular to mould and gauge opinion. It is also used to gather support from intellectuals, where a Mallika Sarabhai or a Teesta Setalwad, are active, or are used as a vehicle by supporters who think on similar lines. So yahoogroups are formed and become popular, and members of these groups also access Facebook and micro blogging sites such as Twitter. There is thus an interplay of such sites, networked into broad argumentative forces, or platforms for disseminating ideas and information.
I think we are living in a technological world crafted by speed, new ideas, information, activism, academics, literature, photo journalism or for that matter journalism. That is the reason for the popularity of community journalism, and these sites have also become such networking sites – expressions of community journalism.
It will be very difficult to combat them, but yes if laws are invoked, they must be universal.
The difference if one can say between Twitter and Facebook is that the former is a micro blogging site, while the latter is more expansive. Micro blogging sites are meant perhaps for short, pithy witticisms but Twitter is used by celebrities, actors and politicians to vent their expressions public, be it grief or patent anger. So the electronic and print media cashes on this to further refurbish their views or quotes!
The point however is that sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are useful to make professional contacts and connections. Every magazine, or journal, or newspaper has its own page which increases its popularity and mileage. Social networking sites hardly costs, but it is this freedom also which can lead to controversy or brouhaha. The concept of freedom of expression is now seriously challenged with governments trying to eke out patchy rules and regulations, something perhaps which only an International Court of Justice can uphold! The globalized settings and transcendence of time, place and space has given such networking sites not only legitimacy, but also infallibility, marked by the aphorism: the world is a global village. Elsewhere writing on a similar issue, I have said that the internet is an ethical mass, a freewheeling, cartwheeling mass of information, expression and choice. It is the choice that matters. It gains momentum, even controversy when public voice is garnered, supported and becomes unmitigated. Arresting people for what they write may just be counter- productive, as other voices will come up and quelling these voices may be a complicated if not complex task.
So whether we micro blog or macro blog it is the individual’s voice that ultimately counts, and one voice becomes a collective conscious.