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Gagging media to what avail?

Gagging media to what avail?

The central government's attempt to suppress the historic second farmers' protest on the Delhi border has drawn ridicule upon India on the world stage. Prominent social media platform 'X' has revealed that the central government issued warnings to cancel hundreds of accounts related to the farmers' protest. 'X' has stated that they are complying with the government's orders and blocking the accounts only in India , but they disagree with this action, asserting that freedom of expression should extend to these posts. However, they have informed that they cannot publish government orders due to legal restrictions, yet they believe that making them public is essential for transparency. Notably, the accounts of protest leaders were blocked even as central government representatives were engaging in talks with the farmer leaders. By the time the leaders emerged from the talks, their 'X' handles were inactive. It is in this context that 'X' has come out with this disclosure, following protests against the continued ban on the 'X' platform.

Social media platforms, including Twitter, have faced criticism for yielding to government pressure in various countries and limiting user expression. However, when Elon Musk took over Twitter and rebranded it as "X," its unrestricted freedom of expression garnered global attention. Musk responded to concerns about hate speech on the platform by asserting that there should be no limits to freedom of expression. He also expressed opposition to censorship, suggesting that if people desired less freedom of speech, they should seek government legislation. However, when "X" clashed with the interests of the ruling establishment, the Sangh Parivar leadership is in an attempt to gag X too. Ironically, this occurred even as a Norwegian MP nominated Elon Musk for the Nobel Peace Prize, citing him as a "powerful defender of freedom of speech.”

The Modi government had previously flexed its muscle against Twitter's stance on 'freedom'. In 2021, Twitter opposed the social media guidelines introduced by the Indian government, arguing that they would severely restrict freedom of expression. India had also made a warning that no one should dictate terms to the world's largest democracy. It is in continuation to that stance that the government has now directed Twitter to comply with the country's laws. This directive aligns with the government's ongoing action of blocking the accounts of prominent farmer leaders and groups who had convened in the national capital to protest against government policies. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has instructed various social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, X, and Snapchat, to deactivate 177 accounts related to the farmers' protest.

The BJP government in India has demonstrated a consistent pattern of using internet shutdowns and gag orders on social media platforms to silence dissent. This is particularly evident in the recent farmers' protests, where the government has repeatedly employed these tactics to suppress the voices of the protesters. However, when videos promoting communal hatred go viral on social media or when any developments emerge that are unfavourable to the ruling party, the government is quick to conceal inconvenient truths. At a time when India's ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has declined, placing it among the most dangerous countries for independent media practitioners, our government persists in adopting self-serving interpretations that add to this disrepute. It is clear that the farmers, who are the backbone of our nation, have taken to the streets to protest when they witnessed the tragic reality of over four lakh farmer suicides between 1995 and 2020, with their debt burden amounting to half of the country's total annual income. From Rs116.16 billion in 2014, their outstanding loan liability has soared to Rs 282.68 billion in 2022. From these figures alone, it is evident what the Modi government has given to the farmers and why they are protesting. If only the passion shown in trying to cover up issues through discussions and bills, and in intimidating the media that exposes those cover-ups, could be redirected even slightly towards solving the real problems faced by farmers, it would have been beneficial for them.

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TAGS:Narendra Modisocial mediaFarmers protestBJP governmentEditorialfreedom of speechX
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