Passengers use smartphones at Mumbai Central railway station | Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
Representational image | Passengers use smartphones at Mumbai Central railway station | Photo: Dhiraj Singh | Bloomberg
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New Delhi: In a plea before the Delhi High Court, former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideologue K.N. Govindacharya has accused social media companies of “misusing the idea of free speech” and “not complying with Indian laws”, resulting in a divisive society and riots-like situation.

On Wednesday, a Delhi HC chief justice D.N. Patel-led bench issued notices to the Indian subsidiaries of Google, Facebook and Twitter on the plea and posted the matter for 13 April.

The move came on Govindacharya’s plea, which essentially demands that the Government of India appoints designated officers for social media companies, as mandated under the Information Technology Act rules, to ensure that the officer “removes fake news and hate speech” from these platforms.

The former RSS ideologue’s plea acknowledged that while police machinery takes steps to prevent violence due to fake news and hate speeches on social media platforms, rioting and violence still happens.

“Despite many steps taken by the police, the growing trend of hate speech on social media has increased the burden of courts. In the absence of any action, hate speech continues to grow on social media,” the plea said.

“The results of the same are rioting and divisive society,” it added.

Also read: Allahabad HC orders removal of posters, hoardings targeting anti-CAA protesters in Lucknow

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‘Tool for rioting’

The PIL moved in the Delhi High Court noted how Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde had observed that “courts cannot prevent riots” and that “courts only come to the scene after riots have taken place”.

Contents of the plea also rely on what Delhi Police believes to be the causes for the riots in the city last month.

“As per Delhi Police, social media platforms have become a haven for hate speech regarding which there is no clear mechanism to enforce justice. The situation is akin to Shaheen Bagh, wherein everybody agrees that there exists a right to protest, but surely such right cannot be exercised on a public road,” it said.

“Similarly, social media platforms cannot become a tool for rioting, even as they claim freedom of speech and expression,” it added.

K.N. Govindacharya’s plea has come amid increasing public backlash against these companies for providing platforms to spread hate and fear.

Cases against hate speech

The Supreme Court had said on 4 March that all hate speech-related cases being filed in the top court would be handled by the Delhi High Court.

Prominent among the cases was a plea by 10 survivors of the riots in Northeast Delhi last month. The plea demanded a Special Investigation Team probe into the riots and immediate registration of FIR against BJP leaders Kapil Mishra and three others.

Another plea by social activist Harsh Mander is currently pending after counter-allegations were leveled against him for delivering a hate speech on 16 December 2019. That case is being separately heard by the SC.

Also read: Why an atheist witness was ‘forced’ to take oath in the name of God in a Guwahati court


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