Opinion and Editorial

Be honest and truthful. Weigh your words before posting them

Shilpa Bhasin Mehra
Filed on October 18, 2020

The whole excitement about the emergence of social media was not to insult, entice or defame anyone

Sometimes, a simple line acquires much relevance later in life. As kids my mother often repeated this to us: "If you have nothing nice to say, it's better you don't say anything." This was to be remembered when talking to people, but I think in a nutshell this is an appropriate way and mantra to use social media.

Social media has become a revolution in the past few years, fuelled by a combination of greater internet access and smart mobile devices. Social media is different from traditional forms of media and social interaction in a number of important ways, such as spontaneity - all can be said and done at the click of a button, reach - social media provides an instant global audience, and permanence - social media messages can be saved or reposted to create a record that is difficult to withdraw or amend. This leads to a greater risk of saying something stupid, which earlier could easily be forgotten the next day, but is now read by thousands and many more, and worse still never lost.

Social media in its phenomenal wave has taken governments across the world by surprise, as to how to tackle it. The notion of freedom of speech and expression is intimately linked to the concept of democracy. For example, Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India confers on the citizens of India the right "to freedom of speech and expression." 

In the light of the growing use of internet and social media as a medium of exercising this right, it is paramount to recognise that the freedom of speech and expression does not confer on the citizens the right to speak or publish without responsibility. It is not an uncontrolled license giving immunity for every possible use of language or content and that which prevents punishment for those who abuse this freedom.

Governments are struggling to balance control, namely, censorship with the cherished freedom of expression. Let us not forget, the internet is open to misuse as well, which gives the state a justification to regulate online content in the interests of the public at large. Several cyber-crimes, defamation, invasion of privacy, incitement of offences, racist remarks, stalking, abuse, hacking, harassment and many more can be easily committed through social media and once such objectionable content is uploaded, it becomes viral and consequently, very difficult to contain.

The purpose of this article is not to discuss details of the cyber laws in different countries and their inadequacies, but to encourage us to use our common sense while using social media.

The whole excitement about the emergence of social media was connectivity, reaching out to thousands and millions instantaneously and having a platform to share information. The idea was not to insult, entice or defame any one.

You should not say anything just because you have the power to type it. Be honest and truthful. Think about your actions. So if you don't want someone posting something unpleasant about you, don't post it about someone else. If you're worried about clicking 'send' or 'post' there's probably a valid reason, so don't do it.

Friends and family should realise that social media is not a letter or SMS addressed to one person. What they are posting can be read by thousands and more. So use it in a wise manner, not to be derogatory or insulting in any way. If you want to say anything personal, I don't think social media is the correct platform for it. The word 'social' is quite the opposite of personal. 

Freedom of speech and expression has to be valued and used appropriately. And we should do so, without having the fear of laws in our head. What should dictate our behaviour and approach on social media is the age old wisdom of quotes such as, "do to others what you would have them do to you." Or treat people in the same way that you would like to be treated.

Shilpa Bhasin Mehra is a legal consultant based in Dubai and the founder of Legal Connect


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