Following complaints that social media was used as a tool to whip up a frenzy of emotion by spreading rumours among people belonging to north-eastern states, the government swiftly swung into action, issuing advisories to internet intermediaries. Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology Sachin Pilot, in an interview with Piyali Mandal, says when national security and lives are at stake, the government wouldn’t sit idle. He, however, clarifies the government isn’t looking at clampdowns on social sites. Edited excerpts:
It is reported panic among people from the North-east was spread through social media and SMSes. What steps is your ministry taking to stop this?
We are working with the Ministry of Home Affairs and other entities concerned to check the spread of rumours and misinformation, and put an end to the fear psychosis. The Department of Information Technology has already issued an advisory to internet intermediaries, asking them to disable content that is inflammatory, hateful, inciting violence and targeting people from the North-east. The websites must do it proactively. They should not host content that incites communal violence. There were also complaints about morphed videos and impersonated and objectionable content on some sites. The advisory was issued based on the complaints.
Considering the gravity of the situation, are you considering banning social media sites such as Twitter?
We are not looking at clampdowns. We want websites to exercise self-regulation. The government cannot go around with a stick and tell them what to do. They should be sensitive to the laws of the land and respect local sentiments. When intermediaries are working in India, they must work for the betterment of the country. They must stand up and take responsibility of being part of the country’s growth story. There are many positive aspects of social media. They have much to offer. They must focus on that. I am sure they don’t want to spread misinformation and be an agent of rumour-mongering.
Is there a need to revisit the government’s current social media policies?
No. We have strict laws in place. I don’t think we need to have new laws.
Earlier, the government tried to monitor social networking sites, and this led to severe criticism. Now, when social media was used to spread rumours and fear among certain communities, do you think web-censorship is important?
No. We never favoured web-censorship. The Indian Consti-tution allows freedom of speech, and we respect that.
Any debate, discussion and criticism of the government is welcome on any platform, including social media.
But when a certain set of messages spread fear among certain communities and are targeted at creating fear psychosis, we will not allow that. You can’t expect the government to sit and watch various social platforms being misused.
Videos related to the Assam violence were doing the rounds for many days. Isn’t the government late in reacting to these?
There is a grey line. If the government takes any pre-emptive step, it is viewed as over-bearing. People say we are looking at net-censorship. It is a matter of judgement. It is a very sticky issue. We are constantly in discussion with intermediaries to ensure the platforms are not misused.