Prelims Level
Mains Level
Prelims Syllabus : Rights Issues Mains Syllabus : GS-II Indian Constitution- Historical Underpinnings, Evolution, Features, Amendments, Significant Provisions and Basic Structure

Why in News?

  • The Supreme Court recently agreed to urgently hear a petition seeking the arrest and trial of people who made hate speeches, inciting violence towards Muslims, at the Haridwar Dharm Sansad.

What is Hate Speech?

  • According to Law Commission of India (267th report), hate speech is “incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief and the like”
  • The report of the commission further clarifies that hate speech is “any word written or spoken, signs, visible representations within the hearing or sight of a person with the Intention to cause fear or alarm, or Incitement to Violence.

What are the Constitutional Provisions Regarding the Freedom of Speech?

  • Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression. Any restriction on this right shall only be permitted if the speech falls within one of the eight grounds set out in Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
  • The freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) includes the right to express one’s views and opinions at any issue through any medium, e.g. by words of mouth, writing, printing, picture, film, movie, etc.
  • It thus includes the freedom of communication and the right to propagate or publish an opinion.

Can Freedom of Speech be Curtailed?

  • This right is subject to reasonable restrictions being imposed under Article 19(2). Out of the eight different grounds listed on Article 19(2) of the Constitution, the majority of hate speech laws are saved by the ‘public order’ exception. The eight different grounds are;
  • Security of the State.
  • Friendly relations with FOREIGN STATES.
  • Public order.
  • Decency and morality.
  • Contempt of court.
  • Incitement to an offence, and
  • Sovereignty and integrity of India.
  • Reasonable restrictions on these grounds can be imposed only by a duly enacted law and not by executive action.

Issues of Social Media Misuse:

  • Rumour Mongering: Fake narratives on online platforms have real life implications. For example, recently in India, online rumours, regarding child traffickers, through popular messaging platform WhatsApp, led to a spate of lynching’s in rural areas.
  • Facilitating Polarisation: It enables the Communalising agents to polarise people for Electoral Gains.
  • For example, during the election campaign of recently conducted Delhi legislative assembly elections, a leader enticed crowds with the use of communalising and violence on social media platforms.
  • Following this, a young man translated these words into reality by opening fire on protesters.
  • This incident highlighted how the spread of hate speech through social media has real consequences.
  • Social Media AI poorly adapted to local languages: Social media platforms’ Artificial Intelligence based Algorithms that filter out hate speeches are not adapted to local languages. Also, the companies have invested little in staff fluent in them. Due to this, it failed to limit the ultranationalist Buddhist monks using Facebook for disseminating hate speech which eventually led to Rohingya Massacres.

Way Forward:

  • Harmonising the Laws: Harmonising the regulations to check misuse of social media are scattered across multiple acts and rules.
  • Thus, there is a need to synchronise the relevant provisions under the Indian Penal Code, the Information Technology Act and Criminal Procedure Code.
  • Obeying the regulation by Supreme Court: In Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015) case, Supreme Court gave a verdict on the issue of online speech and intermediary liability in India.
  • It struck down the Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, relating to restrictions on online speech, on grounds of violating the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
  • It also gave the direction on how hate content should be regulated and the government should follow this direction, where the user reports to the intermediary and the platforms then takes it down after following due process.
  • Transparency obligation for Digital Platforms: Digital platforms can be made to publish the name and amount paid by the author in the event that content is sponsored.
  • For example, with regard to fake news, France has an 1881 law that defines the criteria to establish that news is fake and being disseminated deliberately on a large scale.
  • A legal injunction should be created to swiftly halt such news from being disseminated.
  • Establishing Regulatory Framework: Responsible broadcasting and institutional arrangements should be made with consultations between social media platforms, media Industry bodies, civil society and law enforcement as an ideal regulatory framework.
  • Even global regulations could be made to establish baseline content, electoral integrity, privacy, and data standards.
  • Creating Code of Conduct: It can be framed without creating an ambiguous statutory structure that could leave avenues for potential legislative and state control.
  • For example, the European Union has also established a code of conduct to ensure non-proliferation of hate speech under the framework of a ‘digital single market.’
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