Just a month ago, the resignation letter of Bari Weiss at the New York Times put the spotlight on a growing phenomenon – a Twitter led bullying by Left liberal journalists of all those in media who tended to hold a contrary view – be it journalists or platforms.
In her letter Weiss said, “It has become that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job it is to inform everyone else.” Talking of her own paper she said, “Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and draw their own conclusions.”
It used to be, in the past, that the Left would oppose the views of the Right or the centrists and vice versa, and that there would be healthy competition to win the hearts and minds of the media consumer. But in the last few years, something has changed about the Left’s strategy. It’s increasingly resorting to strident “anything goes” and bullying tactics, to deny space on platforms to any contrary view.
The recent article in the Wall Street Journal about Facebook in India and its alleged bias for the Right can only be described as a hatchet job by some Left elements in Facebook against Facebook. It’s incomplete to say the least, because it either ignores or overlooks the reality that alleged objectionable political content emerges from all sides of the political spectrum. The real story the article represents – using as it does internal leaks – is more about an attempted coup by Facebook insiders to influence Facebook’s content takedown policies, than about anything else. And the intent of the leaks was to get the possibly well-intentioned journalist to only look in one direction – to the Right.
It’s a relatively easy way of gaslighting or doxxing those who speak from the Right or those who support the Right’s right to be equally heard. It is what it is – some left liberal forces in Facebook pressuring it to take down more and more content of the Right – on a totally subjective basis. It’s consistent with the way Left leaning politicians in US Congress took on Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook in a recent hearing at Capitol Hill. All part of a plan to browbeat and bully as many platforms as possible to deny space and access to views from the Right.
I noticed that post the WSJ article, Facebook India has immediately taken down the content relating to only two BJP MPs, whilst leaving many others on the other end of political spectrum, like Owaisi and some Congress names, untouched – pretty clearly proving that this wasn’t about setting of any new equitable standard but a way of muting the Right. That Congress and some other opposition political leaders are tomtomming this proves that this was the desired outcome all along. Deeply ironic and hypocritical given that it was the same Congress party and leadership that engaged the infamous (and now dissolved) Cambridge Analytica, using private consumer data from Facebook consumers, to run its political campaign.
There are serious problems with this kind of approach – both for Facebook and any other social media platform that tries to do this subjective censoring, coerced or pressured by Left elements. First the test of law – Article 19 of Constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech. Article 19(2) also lays out the reasonable restrictions to that free speech. That any cabal can cause a platform to selectively apply 19(2) or censor/ take down content that is not expressly restricted is violative of law. This is not a test that can be easily sidestepped.
Second, there is this need for social media platforms to prevent Twitter from becoming their editors. A few self-styled intellectuals and their tweets don’t make up free speech. Attacks camouflaged as activism – on platforms and journalists – is a pattern that has played out in India and the US, with Left gaslighting or doxxing many leaning to the Right. We saw this happen during the CAA campaign when many Indians in the Middle East were put at risk of violence, through a careful targeted campaign by Left elements in India, who feared no consequence or costs of such actions.
By the way, I tend to think every time there’s a healthy discussion on freedom of expression – that’s a good thing. It’s the essence of our democracy and any open society. It’s not the first time the issue of free speech on the internet has come up for discussion. Not that long ago, I fought hard and long in Parliament and all the way to the Supreme Court, to ensure that UPA government enacted IT Act’s Section 66A was struck down. Section 66A was a sword used to curb free speech on the internet. The Left was conspicuously silent when the bill and Section 66A were passed in 2008.
In today’s internet world, the challenge is real – of balancing free speech with the responsibility of internet platforms to regulate hateful and inciteful content. But to use this power of the platform to attempt to silence or mute the Right is not just wrong, it cannot be permitted. Leftist ideologies and socialism are failed ideas that couldn’t compete in a world that values openness, democracy and free thought. Such ideas can’t be allowed to use bullying, intimidation and half truths to block the ideas of BJP and its followers.
Read in The Times of India