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Citizens at the receiving end of social media onslaught

The elections seem to have turned India into a digital battlefield with politicians, vote aggregates, political parties and supporters bombarding their propaganda to millions of people on social media platforms. Also doing the rounds are fake news, hostile content and misinformation.

At the receiving end of this social media onslaught are average citizens. Though every user has the right to have his or her private / silent space on social media platforms, unsolicited election messages are increasingly intruding into the privacy of social media users, violating this right.

Jyothi Biju, a community consultant in Bengaluru, says, “My WhatsApp has been inundated with election propaganda, images and videos over the last one month. All of them unsolicited and from unknown sources. This bombardment on my phone has made me sick and tired. I called up the cyber police and they say I should just ignore them. Strange that I’ve no other option, but to keep quiet or tolerate.”

 

Manoj Sharma, professor of clinical psychology, SHUT (Service for Healthy Use of Technology), Clinic, NIMHANS, said such bombardment of unsolicited information can cause anxiety and irritation for some people. “The strategy is to remain calm, reason out or reply constructively.”

Cyber security expert and Supreme Court lawyer Pavan Duggal said this is a clear violation. “But our IT Act is silent on several key aspects of personal privacy. India doesn’t have adequate legal framework to protect the interests of individual social media users. We are yet to have a privacy law in place. There is an urgent need for a solid legal framework that can protect and preserve the right of people,” he said

So who is responsible for the spread of election related contentious content that is being delivered on social media today? Experts say the government will not be able to take any action in the absence of proper legislation and social media companies often say they are unable to stem the tide of fake news and hostile content.

“India is going overly digital even when it does not have enough security systems in place. Already, the country and its electoral processes are under threat from certain hacking groups. Interestingly, the ECI website does not have any information on cyber security,” added Mr. Duggal.

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