Who gets to decide what is legitimate free speech

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Dealing with the challenges of Big Tech

The article highlights the challenges in regulating the Big Techs.

Controlling Big Tech

  • Recently, the Indian government announced a sweeping array of rules reining-in social media.
  • Specifically, social media platforms are required to become “more responsible and more accountable” for the content they carry.
  • India is by no means alone in taking steps to regulate at Big Tech.
  • The social media companies would argue that they are self-regulating.
  • The problem is that their actions are ad hoc, inconsistent and reactive 

Issues

  • A user can be removed from the platform if his post threatens the “unity, integrity, defence, security or Sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order, or causes incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence or prevents investigation of any offence or is insulting any foreign States”.
  • In other words, the government is giving itself plenty of room to cut Big Tech down to size.

Why the issue needs government intervention: 3 arguments

1) Conflict of interest

  • The government intervention rests on the presumption that it is never in the commercial interest of Big Tech to remove offensive speech.
  • This is because as such content goes viral more readily, bringing in more eyeballs, more data and more advertising revenue.
  • Big Tech proponents would contend that the companies are getting smarter about the risks of allowing such content on their systems and will inevitably find it in their self-interest to pre-emptively kill it.

2) State is the guardian of public interest

  • A second argument in favour of government would be as follows: States are the guardians of the public interest.
  • In democratic societies, governments are elected to represent the will of the people.
  • So if there is a hard choice to be made about curtailing speech or permitting it, it seems only natural to turn to the public guardian.
  • The counter to this theory would be that, in practice, even democratically elected governments are far from perfect.
  • In fact according to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, both India (ranked 53rd ) and the US (ranked 25th) are “flawed democracies”.
  • In parallel, the argument for Big Tech to be the upholder of the public interest could rest on the theory that well-functioning markets are superior to flawed democracies in optimising social welfare.
  • The counter-argument to this view would be that the tech industry is itself deeply flawed.
  • There is a lack of sufficient choice of platforms; there are asymmetries in power between the companies and users and Big Tech is amassing data on the citizens and using this information for its own purposes, which makes the disparity even greater.

3) Bargaining power of BigTech

  • A third perspective is to acknowledge it doesn’t matter who is the “true” upholder of the public interest.
  • For all practical purposes, the outcome of the struggle between Big Government and Big Tech will be determined by relative bargaining power.
  • While governments technically have the ability to take entire platforms offline within the borders of their countries, these platforms are now so enormous that their users would revolt.
  • This is why we witnessed the audacity, recently, of Google and Facebook, threatening to de-platform Australia.

Consider the question “What are the challenges in the regulation of Big Techs? Suggest ways to deal with these challenges.”.

Conclusion

While governments technically have the ability to take entire platforms offline within the borders of their countries, these platforms are now so enormous that their users would revolt. This is why we witnessed the audacity, recently, of Google and Facebook, threatening to de-platform Australia.

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