Social Media: Prospect and Challenges

A case of unchecked power to restrict e-free speech


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Related provisions and important Judgements

Mains level: Channing prospects of freedom of speech and expression

Central idea

  • The recent judgment by the Karnataka High Court dismissing Twitter’s challenge to blocking orders issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) raises serious concerns about the erosion of free speech and unchecked state power. By imposing an exorbitant cost on Twitter and disregarding established procedural safeguards, the judgment sets a worrisome precedent for content takedowns and hampers the exercise of digital rights.

*Relevance of the topic

The concerns raised in the Karnataka High Court judgment are in contrast to the principles established in the Shreya Singhal case.

Highly relevant with the principles of natural justice and expanded scope of online speech and expression

Concerns raised over the judgement

  • Ignorance of Procedural Safeguards: The court’s interpretation undermines the procedural safeguards established under the Information Technology Act, 2000, and the Blocking Rules of 2009. By disregarding the requirement to provide notice to users and convey reasons for blocking, the judgment enables the state to restrict free speech without proper oversight, leading to potential abuse of power.
  • Unchecked State Power: The judgment grants the state unchecked power in taking down content without following established procedures. This lack of oversight raises concerns about potential misuse and arbitrary blocking of content, which could lead to the suppression of dissenting voices and curtailment of free speech rights.
  • Expansion of Grounds for Restricting Speech: The court’s reliance on combating “fake news” and “misinformation” as grounds for blocking content goes beyond the permissible restrictions on free speech under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. This expansion of grounds for blocking content raises concerns about subjective interpretations and the potential for suppressing diverse viewpoints and dissent.
  • Chilling Effect on Free Speech: The acceptance of wholesale blocking of Twitter accounts without specific justification creates a chilling effect on free speech. This can deter individuals from expressing their opinions openly and engaging in meaningful discussions, ultimately inhibiting democratic discourse and stifling freedom of expression.
  • Deviation from Judicial Precedent: The judgment deviates from the precedent set by the Supreme Court in the Shreya Singhal case, which upheld the constitutionality of Section 69A while emphasizing the importance of procedural safeguards.

Shreya Singhal case for example

  • The Shreya Singhal case is a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of India that has significant implications for freedom of speech and expression online.
  • In this case, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, as unconstitutional on grounds of violating the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
  • The judgment in the Shreya Singhal case is significant in the context of freedom of speech and expression because it reinforces several principles:
  • Overbreadth and Vagueness: The court emphasized that vague and overly broad provisions that can be interpreted subjectively may lead to a chilling effect on free speech. Section 66A, which allowed for the punishment of online speech that caused annoyance, inconvenience, or insult, was considered vague and prone to misuse, leading to the restriction of legitimate expression.
  • Requirement of Procedural Safeguards: The Supreme Court highlighted the importance of procedural safeguards to protect freedom of speech. It stated that any restriction on speech must be based on clear and defined grounds and must be accompanied by adequate procedural safeguards, including the provision of notice to the affected party and the opportunity to be heard.
  • Need for a Direct Nexus to Public Order: The judgment reiterated that restrictions on speech should be based on specific grounds outlined in Article 19(2) of the Constitution. It emphasized that there must be a direct nexus between the speech and the threat to public order, and mere annoyance or inconvenience should not be a ground for restriction.

Its impact on freedom of speech and expression

  • Undermining Freedom of Speech: The judgment undermines freedom of speech and expression by allowing the state to exercise unchecked power in taking down content without following established procedures. This grants the state the ability to curtail speech and expression without proper justification or recourse for affected parties.
  • Prior Restraint: The judgment’s acceptance of wholesale blocking of Twitter accounts, without targeting specific tweets, amounts to prior restraint on freedom of speech. This restricts future speech and expression, contrary to the principles established by the Supreme Court.
  • Lack of Procedural Safeguards: The judgment disregards procedural safeguards established in previous court rulings, such as the requirement for recording a reasoned order and providing notice to affected parties. This lack of procedural safeguards undermines transparency, accountability, and the protection of freedom of speech and expression.
  • Unchecked State Power: Granting the state unfettered power in content takedowns without proper oversight or recourse raises concerns about abuse and arbitrary censorship. It allows the state to remove content without clear justifications, potentially stifling dissenting voices and limiting the diversity of opinions.
  • Restricting Online Discourse: By restricting the ability of users and intermediaries to challenge content takedowns, the judgment curtails the online discourse and hampers the democratic values of open discussion and exchange of ideas on digital platforms.
  • Disproportionate Impact on Digital Rights: The judgment’s disregard for procedural safeguards and expanded grounds for content takedowns disproportionately affect digital rights. It impedes individuals’ ability to freely express themselves online, limiting their participation in public discourse and impacting the vibrancy of the digital space.

Way forward

  • Strengthen Procedural Safeguards: It is essential to reinforce procedural safeguards in the process of blocking content. Clear guidelines should be established, including the provision of notice to affected users and conveying reasons for blocking. This ensures transparency, accountability, and the opportunity for affected parties to challenge the blocking orders.
  • Uphold Judicial Precedents: It is crucial to adhere to established judicial precedents, such as the principles outlined in the Shreya Singhal case. Courts should interpret laws relating to freedom of speech and expression in a manner consistent with constitutional values, protecting individual rights and ensuring a robust and inclusive public discourse.
  • Review and Amend Legislation: There may be a need to review and amend relevant legislation, such as Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, to address the concerns raised by the judgment. The legislation should clearly define the grounds for blocking content and ensure that restrictions are based on constitutionally permissible grounds, protecting freedom of speech while addressing legitimate concerns.
  • Promote Digital Literacy: Enhancing digital literacy among citizens can empower individuals to navigate online platforms responsibly, critically evaluate information, and exercise their freedom of speech effectively. Educational initiatives can focus on teaching digital literacy skills, media literacy, and responsible online behavior.
  • Encourage Public Discourse and Open Dialogue: It is important to foster an environment that encourages open discourse and dialogue on matters of public interest. Platforms for discussion and debate should be facilitated, providing individuals with opportunities to express their opinions, share diverse perspectives, and engage in constructive conversations.
  • International Collaboration: Collaboration with international stakeholders and organizations can contribute to promoting and protecting freedom of speech and expression in the digital realm. Sharing best practices, lessons learned, and cooperating on global norms and standards can strengthen the protection of these rights across borders


  • The Karnataka High Court’s judgment undermines procedural safeguards, erodes the principles of natural justice, and grants unchecked power to the state in removing content it deems unfavorable. This ruling, coupled with the recently amended IT Rules on fact-checking, endangers free speech and digital rights. It is crucial to protect and uphold the right to free speech while ensuring that restrictions are justified within the confines of the Constitution

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