- “Because of the platform they provide, they have an impact on populations across the borders. One such corporation is Facebook,” the bench remarked.
- “The basic core of a democratic government, election and voting processes, are challenged by social media manipulation,” it stated.
- Facebook is India’s most popular social networking platform, with over 270 million registered members.
The Supreme Court stated on Thursday that “social media manipulation” threatens the democratic electoral process, adding that digital platforms can be “imminently uncontrollable at times” and provide their own set of challenges.
The Supreme Court stated that the information explosion in the digital age is capable of posing new challenges that are subtly modulating debate on issues where opinions can be widely divergent, and that the successful functioning of a liberal democracy can only be ensured when citizens are able to make informed decisions.
The power and potentiality of these intermediaries, according to a bench led by Justice SK Kaul, is enormous, spanning boundaries, and these are multinational corporations with vast resources and influence at their disposal.
“Because of the platform they provide, they have an impact on populations all over the world. One such company is Facebook “Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy were also on the bench.
The apex court made the remarks in a 188-page judgement dismissing a petition filed by MD Ajit Mohan, Facebook India Vice President and others challenging the summons issued by the Delhi Assembly’s Peace and Harmony committee for failing to appear as a witness in connection with last year’s riots in north-east Delhi.
“Unlike railway platforms, where trains were regulated on arrival and departure, the computer age has produced digital platforms. These digital platforms can be unmanageable at times and come with their own set of problems,” it stated.
The bench stated that the fact that Facebook has over 2.85 billion monthly active users as of March 2021, which is more than one-third of the world’s entire population, is a tribute to the breadth of services it provides.
Facebook is India’s most popular social networking platform, with over 270 million registered members.
“With such huge powers comes a great deal of responsibility.” Facebook, for example, must be accountable to those who have entrusted them with such authority. “While Facebook has played a crucial role in facilitating free speech by giving the voiceless a voice and a way to avoid state censorship, we cannot overlook the fact that it has also become a platform for disruptive messages, voices, and ideology,” the statement read.
“Thus, although social media is improving equal and open discussion between citizens and policymakers on one hand, it has also become a tool in the hands of diverse interest groups who have recognised its disruptive potential on the other.”
This has the paradoxical impact of radical viewpoints being sold into the mainstream, spreading misinformation,” it stated.
The Supreme Court stated that established independent democracies are concerned about the impact of such ripples around the world.
“The basic core of a democratic government, election and voting processes, are challenged by social media manipulation,” it stated.
According to the bench, the impact on a stable society can be severe “citizens being “divided and parlayzed” by such “debates,” separating society vertically is disastrous. Less informed people may be prone to not verifying information acquired from friends or treating information from populist leaders as gospel truth.”
According to the judgement, Facebook has had to acknowledge its role in “failing to prevent division and incitement of offline violence in the context of the stated ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, where a crescendo of misinformation and posts, somehow missed by Facebook employees, helped fuel the violence.”
“The platform also apologised for its lack of serious response to obvious signs of platform abuse in Sri Lanka, which is said to have stoked widespread violence in the country in 2018, and had to acknowledge its need to be regulated, though the exact method is still unclear and a prerogative of law-making authority,” it said.
Countries such as Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union have attempted to regulate platforms such as Facebook in an efficient manner, but their efforts are still at a “nascent stage” as studies are conducted to understand the platform’s dynamism and “disruptive potential,” according to the top court.
“The United States has likewise experienced heated arguments emanating from the 2016 Presidential elections, with allegations of alleged Russian intervention purportedly helped by platforms like Facebook,” the bench wrote in its decision.
“We have penned a detailed introduction to appreciate the gravity of what was debated before us in the context of Facebook’s hands-off approach,” the bench said. “They have urged that they cannot be compelled to participate in proceedings of sub-committees formed by the parliament or legislative assemblies.”
On the grounds of its privilege, the Delhi Legislative Assembly and its committee have the ability to impose attendance of members and outsiders, according to the bench.
While recognising the balance of power, it stated that while law and order and police do not fall under the legislative jurisdiction of the Delhi Assembly, the concept of peace and harmony in the larger context goes well beyond that.
In any case, the representative of the social media behemoth would have the ability to refuse to answer inquiries directly related to these two categories, it said.