Vigilance and curbing opportunities for miscreants is undoubtedly a part of policing, but, sans clarity on the frontiers, policing could descend into state oppression.
Going digital, there is little doubt, increased newspaper readership, but the bulk of online advertisement accrues to the BigTech giants like Google and Facebook; so, while the advertiser has shifted from traditional media to online media, those generating the news are getting a smaller share of the pie.
Vigilance and curbing opportunities for miscreants is undoubtedly a part of policing, but, sans clarity on the frontiers, policing could descend into state oppression. Uttarakhand and Bihar need to remember this as they implement police-verification for certain services. The Bihar police—after announcement that it will treat “objectionable” social media posts against government functionaries as a criminal offence—said last week that they will consider social media posts for police verification of individuals for nine services.
The Uttarakhand police said it will maintain a database of “anti-national” and “anti-social” posts as per Times of India report. Juxtapose this against easing of KYC, etc with deployment of digital. The states need to learn from Kerala, which had brought in a similar draconian social media policing before shelving it.
To be sure, freedom of speech is not absolute and unregulated social media has lent itself to abuse of this freedom. But, arbitrary terms such as “anti-social”, “anti-national” leave it up to the police’s discretion—and this can translate into harassment, at the behest of the ruling dispensation. More important, this equates a person who may criticise the government on social media with someone who has a criminal record.
The Association for Democratic Reforms reports that 68% of the sitting MLAs in Bihar have pending criminal charges—51% face serious charges. Against such a backdrop, denying services on the basis of social media posts will only draw comparisons with oppressive regimes.