DoT’s plan to get internet service providers to block social media during emergencies is impractical
The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has asked telecom operators and internet service providers to suggest ways to block social media applications, like Facebook and WhatsApp, during emergencies. Such restriction of internet services is commonplace in strife-torn Kashmir, and was recently placed in Rajasthan. Given that social media often amplifies both the volume and reach of calls for protests, uprisings, etc,leading to law and order threats, the DoT’s demand should seem legitimate. However, in a democracy, the freedom of expression is as important as the preservation of law and order, if not more. India must not place itself in the same league as China which is notorious for government censorship.
The problem with DoT’s order, as industry has pointed out, is that it is impossible to implement, since there are multiple channels that can be used to spread the word. A blanket ban on popular social media will only prompt those fuelling emergencies to shift to sophisticated alternatives that will make plans/strategies and organisers even more difficult to detect. It is precisely during times of upheaval and emergency that the government needs to regulate and monitor communication made through these online channels, to mount a pre-emptive response. This is not to say that social media should allow anti-socials and riot-mongers a freehand. Indeed, social media companies must have safeguards against posts that are likely to incite violence, or otherwise lead to law and order situations. The government must let people voice dissent and differing opinions while it works with social media companies to identify and tackle the anti-socials.