Freedom of expression

Ramesh Pandita
Gone are the days when people for the want of their outreach used to find it difficult to express their views over a range of issues or subjects, especially on those in which they   had expertise, knowledge, information or even for that matter the solution of the problems, on account which society at large used to suffer.  People, who used to talk about and advocate the concept of freedom of expression, used to get charmed by it either by going though such expressions in books or by listening to political stalwarts at political congregations, and beyond this the concept of freedom of expression had no real essence and meaning for public. Besides for the want of takers, expressing grievances, even in public forums used to fall on the deaf ears and to propagate same among masses used to be treated as something far from public realm.
As time has changed, so has changed the ways and means of expressing one’s views, thereby overcoming the barriers, which hitherto used to come in between the freedom of expression and the society at large, the real recipient of such expressions, to endorse them, to back them and to see to it that the same be acted upon to reach such expressions to their desired end. Yes, information technology (IT) has turned out to be a real agent of change, change which is desperately needed and people do look forward to this change agent with optimism as it has already revolutionized almost every sphere of human activity and freedom of expression is no exception to it.
One can easily find, people having sound, average or even less knowledge about the internet and its applications remain hanged to social media either through desktops or through other handheld smart electronic gadgets during the most part of their day’s work.  Although there are hundreds of social networking sites to which netizens remain hanged to, but still Twitter, Facebook, Google plus, LinkedIn, iBibo, Myspace WhatsApp etc are the few which are very popular among Indian masses. It would be neither exaggeration nor inappropriate to say that internet laced with social media applications has given a true meaning and essence to the phrase ‘freedom of expression’. People who so far remained wondering about the actual gist of freedom of expression have experienced the true significance of freedom of expression only after stumbling against technology. People now feel empowered, as they know that they are being heard, they are being responded and above all they are able to raise their real concerns the way they want and can speak their hearts and mind out. Indeed an empowerment and real freedom to which people had been looking for all their ages has ultimately become a working reality and one should not be having any doubt in the fact that the social media has become a real public mouth piece.
What is more interesting to note is, the way the Prime Minister  Narendra  Modi has been lauding time and again the role, need and importance of information technology and how its true potential can be channelized in transforming the lives of common masses, provided same is used in right spirit and in right direction. And to remain connected with Indian masses, PMO’s office has already created a web portal dedicated to countrymen to participate in good governance by sharing their expertise & knowledge in any given field, indeed a rare gesture, reflecting his keenness in public participation in passive governance with the help of technology.
The empowerment of freedom of expression delivered to people with technology is not an end in itself and honestly speaking, this is just simply the one face of the coin, rather the brighter side of technology and the freedom of expression and the harsh reality is, there is also the darker side of the freedom of expression, which has also got equally exposed by the technology itself. Yes, the aspect of regulation, rather self-regulation, which unfortunately people have not yet understood and what worries one the most is the price which sooner or later, we all may have to pay for the excessive freedom of expression, which surely will be of such magnitude that we will regret and repent for our excessive freedom of expression and its unregulated use.
Many a time, people talk of freedom of expression, every time I am reminded of Elbert Hubbard, who has said “Responsibility is the price of freedom”, but unfortunately people have not just forgotten their responsibility but have equally taken the phrase ‘freedom of expression’ hostage by their irresponsible, irrelevant, provocative, unsolicited and undesirable expressions. And the irony is, people under the garb of freedom of expression try to defend all their non-sense they express on social media and one fails to understand their level of understanding of the freedom of expression & the self-regulation they are supposed to imbibe while posting on public forums like social media.  Thereon, the dangerous proportion which social media has assumed is in the form of fake, fraudulent, bogus, cod, phoney and hoax users who conceal their true identities and deliberately with all awareness intentionally post sacrilegious, abusive, communal, derogatory, and other provocative content on social media to flare-up social unrest and this is something which is more alarming and worrisome.
Of the late, the way people have started making use of this public mouthpiece has become more a curse rather a blessing and the big question arises is ‘how far the excessive freedom of expression conferred on irresponsible and opportunist global expanse is advisable? Squarely, I don’t find anything wrong in censoring the content on social media which is unsolicited, provocative, sacrilegious, undesirable, communal, distasteful and many more, which can easily stimulate social unrest and as such should be rated as a violation of freedom of expression and to keep check on such expressions by censoring, should by no means be considered as curb on freedom of expression and if we want technology to keep on showering blessings on us, is possible only and only ‘if we take good care of technology, technology will itself take good care of us’.
(The author is Assistant Librarian, BGSB University, Rajouri, J & K)


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