For generations now, social media has been a web-based platform where people are able to freely share their thoughts, ideas, and information; however, recent events have forced society to question the notion that social media platforms are democratic. The fundamental aim of social media has been to generate a space where an online community, conversation, and connectivity are created. Social media platforms are terrific for democracy in numerous ways but have downsides as well (Sunstein, 2018, para.6). Social media platforms that were once seen as democracy’s ally, have increasingly become democracy’s enemy (Beauchamp, 2019, 7). In today’s day and age, censorship on social media platforms, racism, incitement to violence, hatred are common problems the people face when talking about injustices and exercising their right to freedom of speech. In this essay, I will specifically be focusing on the infringement of democratic rights on social media platforms by the Indian government.
In order to better understand how platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter have violated the democratic rights of people, insight into the events occurring in India right now is crucial. Presently, the largest protest in human history is taking place in India and the Indian government is not happy with all of the international attention it has gained. More than 60 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population mainly depend on agriculture to survive (Mashal et al, 2021, para.7). So when the Indian government passed three new farm laws this past September undemocratically during a pandemic, with no representation of farmers who will be exploited by these bills; farmers felt unheard and silenced. In response, farmers peacefully protested in their individual states but still, the government showed no sign of remorse. Then, Nationwide farmers decided to protest in India’s capital, Delhi in hopes to be heard this time. It has been almost three months since farmers left their lands, families, homes to peacefully protest on the highways leading to Delhi. It is critical to understand that these three laws will directly be impacting the livelihoods of farmers, so it was an easy choice for the farmers to protest during a global pandemic simply because the laws will take more lives than a deadly virus like covid-19.
The people who have been raising awareness about the farmer’s protest on social media have been constantly facing censorship. Hundreds of Indian Twitter accounts, including those of news websites, activists, and a farmers’ union, were suspended by the Indian government (Pathi, 2021, Para.6). One would think a country that takes pride in being “the largest democracy in the world” would respect freedom of speech on social media platforms but we have seen otherwise. Similarly, one would imagine a platform such as Twitter where freedom of speech is defended, respected, and recognized as a core value would not fall vulnerable to the pressure of power (Twitter Help Center, 2020, Para.1).
Disha Ravi a 21-year-old climate activist was arrested by the Indian police with the help of Google for merely editing a tool-kit that Greta Thunberg, a well-known Swedish climate activist tweeted about to show her solidarity for Indian farmers (Arvin, 2021, Para.2). It is shocking but not surprising to see the Indian government stoop so low to silence and scare its own citizens. Ravi’s arrest is concerning for every social media user who is vocal about the farmer’s protest, especially because of the involvement of technology giants like Google and Twitter (Sangomla, 2021, Para.8).
Many international celebrities like Rihanna, JuJu Smith, Meena Harris, Greta Thunberg, and more have used their social media platforms to show their support for the farmers. This has caused the Indian government to issue a statement criticizing those coming to the aid of farmers online (Ebrahimji, 2021, Para.12). Since then, right-wing Hindu nationalists have bombarded the comment sections of the celebrities and athletes who had shown their support for farmers with rape, death, and hate, threats (Ebrahimji, 2021, Para.15). The Indian government is afraid of the international attention this protest has received and in return has made it clear that it does not appreciate outsiders interfering in India’s “internal affairs.” However, it is important to remember that when human rights are being violated it is everyone’s business to interfere.
All things considered, social media platforms have the potential to be a hundred percent democratic but from time to time we have seen popular social media platforms favor corrupt governments rather than treating everyone equally and allowing freedom of speech. In this specific case scenario, the international attention that arose from a few tweets by celebrities has prevented bloodshed and saved lives! The power of social media is unreal but we could only imagine how impactful it could be if these platforms lived up to their full potential. Hopefully, in the coming years, we see changes in social media in order to make democracy work better (Sunstein, 2018, para.17).
Arvin, J. (2021). Climate activist Disha Ravi has been arrested in India for supporting farmers’ protests. Vox. Retrieved from: https://www.vox.com/2021/2/16/22285458/india-climate-activist-farmers-protest-jail-disha-ravi
Beauchamp, Z. (2019). How social media platforms enable politicians to undermine democracy. Vox. Retrieved from: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/1/22/18177076/social-media-facebook-far-right-authoritarian-populism
Ebrahimji, A. C. (2021). Rihanna’s call to support Indian farmers quickly embraced by other celebrities. CNN. Retrieved from: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/02/04/world/rihanna-farmer-protests-indian-government-trnd/index.html
Mashal, M., Schmall, E., & Goldman, R. (2021) Why India’s Farmers Are Protesting. The New York Times. Retrieved from: httpshttps://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/27/world/asia/india-farmer-protest.html
Pathi, S. S. A. K. (2021). Activists, journalists face social media crackdown amid Indian farmer protests. Global News. Retrieved from:https://globalnews.ca/news/7621907/india-farmers-social-media/
Sangomla, A. S. (2021). Disha Ravi arrest: Role of Google, tech companies under cloud. Down To Earth. Retrieved from: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/governance/disha-ravi-arrest-role-of-google-tech-companies-under-cloud-75563
Sunstein, C. (2018). Is Social Media Good or Bad for Democracy? Sur – International Journal on Human Rights. Retrieved from: https://sur.conectas.org/en/is-social-media-good-or-bad-for-democracy/
Twitter Help Center. (2020). Defending and respecting the rights of people using our service. Twitter. Retrieved from: https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/defending-and-respecting-our-users-voice