Social Media Tracking: Is India Heading As A Surveillance State?

Social Media Tracking: Is India Heading As A Surveillance State?

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Tasneem Kabir                                                  Surveillance

In a rare and unanimous verdict in August 2017 pronounced by nine judges, the Supreme Court ruled that privacy is a fundamental right that requires constitutional protection.
With this splendid judgement, the court had managed to lull the citizens into a false sense of security, which was shattered into irreparable fragments with yet another verdict on July 13, 2018: A Social Media Communication Hub is to be set up so that popular social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc, would be tracked to identify the “buzz creators” and social media influencers.
With the word out that social media platforms are under attack, we are steered towards assessing how media has come to play a central role in all of the activities we undertake on a daily basis.
Let’s commence from where it all began. The earliest forms of the Internet were developed in the 1960s. Primitive forms of email were also developed during this time, minimising to some extent the dependence on the time consuming postal services. By the 70s, networking technology had improved, and 1979’s UseNet allowed users to communicate through a virtual newsletter.
The first recognizable social media site, Six Degrees, was created in 1997 and lasted till 2001. It enabled users to upload a profile and make friends with other users. In 1999, the first blogging sites became popular, creating a social media sensation that’s still popular today.
After this, there was no looking back for social media for sites like MySpace and LinkedIn gained prominence in the early 2000s while in 2005, technology gave the world a uniquely brilliant way of sharing with the world across great distances via audio as well as visual media – YouTube.
Following shortly in 2006, Facebook and Twitter both became available to users throughout the world. These sites remain some of the most popular social networks on the Internet. Other sites like Tumblr, Spotify, Foursquare and Pinterest began popping up to fill specific social networking niches like photography or music sharing. There really remains no arena that there is no social sharing dais for!
It can undeniably be said that the emergence of social media signalled the dawning of a whole new era. If we were to inquire with our grandparents and even parents about how their childhood was spent, all they could possibly have for us are mere stories, save a few monochrome photographs that they were lucky or wealthy enough to procure.
But for us, when our children ask for our life in a nutshell, thanks to social media and digital technology, we can lay before them a vivid, colourful collage of pictures and make them feel as though they were with us right there in the then.
Analogically, while even the pre-social media times were abounding with knowledge, the problem arose on the issue of who had access to it. In those times, knowledge was restricted to the confines of a hard-bound book but now, even those who find books expensive or weighty have only to just access a metaphysical cloud that stores the very same facts and figures.
That said, we all are aware of the legendary speeches delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. for kickstarting the Black Upliftment revolution and Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation that had the United States fight to abolish slavery.
Back in the day, these speeches, unfortunately, only impacted the people who were present before the orator, for the sentiments are lost when speech is turned to literature. But today, via social media, multiple speeches, pleas and appeals capable of sparking revolutions are shared in the blink of an eye and streamed live far across the distances. That’s how social media has tipped the scales in the favour of humanity.
Indeed, it would be unfair to bear sight on just one side of the coin. After having spoken of the pros, we ought to look at the cons. The first and foremost drawback that comes to mind is the fact that social media has started to take a toll on the population by making people increasingly concerned with aesthetics as well as materialism, for they start caring way more than they should about how others react to their social media handles.
With materialistic infatuation on the rise, we also realise that despite social media connecting people who live in different time zones altogether, it has succeeded in distancing us from those around us as, so much so that we barely hold any interest in a heart-to-heart conversation with our loved ones. One can’t have the best of both worlds, isn’t it? Perhaps, the most jolting effect of information shared on social media is its lack of credibility. We have no way of tracking the ultimate sources of information and hence may be prey to disinformation, if not vigilant enough.
All in all, after having succeeded in accepting social media with its golden glory as well as dirty linen, we have to admit that it is an indispensable part of our lives. Consequently the verdict by the apex court to set upaSocial Media Communication Hub, which is basically jargon for a government-run watchdog for social media, affects us all.
As rightly pointed out in the court hearing, this seems to be the first step of India’s movement towards a ‘surveillance state’ if every tweet and WhatsApp message is monitored besides hampering people’s right to freedom of speech, to freedom of thought and expression as well as the newly granted fundamental freedom to privacy.

If the government is tracking each and every post made regarding its functioning, people will become increasingly conscious of their posts and hence, defeat the very purpose of ‘freedom’. Besides the depravation of certain quintessential rights of course, there is the fact that this tool can and will be used for “profiling and data-basing” of social media users, while lacking oversight and accountability.

This will do nothing but stifle and suffocate out the very essence of democracy from each and every one of our conscience and lead us, inevitably, to the formation of an Indian State that self-identifies by default as a Surveillance State.
The author is feature editor of The Legitimate

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