Law and Social Media

The advent of social media and its increasing use in India has led to numerous questions concerning its legal regulation. Our research commenced with questions around incidents of communal and ethnic violence where social media has been ascribed an important role – the Bangalore and Pune North East exodus of 2012, the Azad Maidan disturbance in Mumbai in 2012, the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013, and the communal disturbances of 2014. We conducted extensive interviews with lawyers, police, journalists, policy experts, academics and others associated with the technology industry. Over 50 interviews were conducted in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Kandhla (Shamli district) and Saharanpur. We have also collected media reports, official documents, legislation, case law and First Information Reports (FIRs) related to our field of enquiry. Through this process, we noted that the role of the law is moving from post-incident investigation and trial to monitoring activity on social media and prevention of incidents of violence or public disorder. This is done, often, by extending legal liability to actors such as WhatsApp moderators, using existing laws such as section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to control the flow of information on the Internet, and getting news-related WhatsApp groups to register with the administration. As changes in technology and law begin to shape each other, it is clear that the impact of the law will be felt not just as words in a statute, but also as the technological forms through which people use social media. As Lawrence Lessig argues in his influential work Code 2.0, code is law; that is to say, the code developed by platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter and the internal guidelines, policies and mechanisms that they have developed shape the limits of what can be said. Besides communal and ethnic violence, we have also collected material on genderbased violence on social media, especially rape videos and revenge pornography, involving important issues related to consent. On this issue, we have collected case law, and legislation related to the regulation of the Internet, and platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter and YouTube in jurisdictions such as the USA, UK, South Africa and Canada. This has helped us compare existing legislation in India with emerging trends globally. We have also examined the debates around the enactment and amendments to the Information Technology Act, including the legal challenge to section 66A of the Act that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015. Provisions of the Information Technology Act were applied in many of the situations that we have examined along with other penal provisions.