In the last few weeks, many have taken to social media as well as streets across the country to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC). While the protests on the streets continue, tempers also remain high on social media where protestors are tweeting out to handles run by public services such as UP Police, alleging that the cops are failing in their duty and asking them questions.
The UP Police is not apparently too happy about it, particularly when Twitter users are asking it questions or bringing to its notice videos that show cops vandalising private property. As per reports, many of the departments of the UP Police are blocking users on Twitter in a bid to evade difficult questions. In the past few weeks, the UP Police has been in news for alleged excesses and its use of unnecessary force in dealing with protests. While the Police has denied these charges, images and videos shared on social media by private handles paint an entirely different story.
One of these handles is reportedly of a Mumbai-based activist, Md Asif Khan, who according to a report published by the Deccan Chronicle, started sharing videos and photos of police brutality in UP on Twitter. However, earlier last week, he found that his account had been blocked by the police departments of Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Agra on Twitter.
What’s interesting is that Khan claims that he didn’t even tag these accounts in question in any of his posts. Speaking to the publication, he said: I have been uploading videos of police brutality. Under one of these tweets, UP police’s Twitter handle replied to me. Even in this tweet, these three departments weren’t tagged. It is possible they have been monitoring me for a long time, he said.
But Khan’s case doesn’t appear to be an isolated one. Several journalists, including those with prominent TV channels, have also been blocked by the Twitter accounts run by city departments of UP Police.
Why UP Police blocking users on Twitter is problematic
There is no denying that social media can be an ugly place, one which can be used to put on a cloak of invisibility and share content that is fake, malicious or even criminal in nature. To deal with this, Twitter affords its users with the ability to get away from the vitriol and cyber-bullying by simply blocking the account in question.
But there is a troubling side to the tool when it is used by public authorities that are supposed to be running social media accounts to communicate with citizens. While it cannot be denied that there can be more debate around the issue of misinformation on social media and proper protocol needs to be set for dealing with those that may attack social media handles of government bodies, blocking people left, right and center doesn’t look like a solution.
After all, these handles being run by various departments of the Police are there to serve the people, and not cower away every time they face a difficult question or even get attacked by unpleasant trolls.
As such, more than a matter of legality or its Twitter provided right to block people it’s a matter of understanding why the UP Police set-up accounts on Twitter in the first place. At the core of it, the UP Police’s handles are expected to function like e-police stations on Twitter, one whose doors are promised to be open to all citizens at all times of the day. However, by blocking users, it is robbing individuals of their basic right to reach out to the Police in a timely manner in their time of need.
And lest it is forgotten, this argument isn’t just valid for Twitter handles being used by the Police, but is true for all handles on social media that represent an institution. While in India we are still exploring the issue, other democracies where social media plays a much more important role in shaping opinions have already had to contend with the issue.
For example, the United States of America recently saw a landmark judgment earlier in the year in which a federal court in the country ruled that President Donald Trump could not block users on Twitter from the President’s official account on the platform. This despite many of these users being found to be indulging in cyberbullying, and calling Trump names on Twitter. The court declared that it was unconstitutional to block users and the move discriminatory in nature.
Although a judgment passed in a court of law in the US isn’t precedent for the Indian judiciary, for now, however, it can serve as a guiding light in treading the difficult waters that social media is for many of our institutions trying to make their presence felt on platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
Published at Mon, 30 Dec 2019 02:20:22 +0000