The rise of Social Media:
In 2004, MySpace became the first social media site to reach one million monthly active users. This is arguably marked as the beginning of the social media evolution. In 2021, one million followers is a piece of cake even for not-so-popular personalities while then it was regarded as a milestone event for a site. So, the pace at which the craze for social media has grown and amplified is remarkable. The rapid advances in digital technology and the human want to communicate are the power fuels behind the evolution of social media. The appearance of social media offered Internet users an unprecedented opportunity to connect with other people.
The appearance of social media has created an unparalleled platform for Internet users to communicate with others. The sharing of thoughts, impressions, beliefs, views, and goals has become simple and, over time, very cheap. One can find former classmates and re-establish daily communication and even find new “friends” through dynamic growing social networks. And this “friend” can be from any part of the world as the internet knows no boundaries. It is a story about establishing and nurturing personal connections at scale. Today, if one is not on Facebook or Instagram, one probably does not exist. Scrolling the Instagram feeds, posting tweets, posing for the snaps, etc. has become a part of daily routine.
Changing role of Social Media:
However, as social media grows, concerns have arisen over how it can be used for exploitative purposes. Everything was fine until these networking sites were used for fun and enjoyment but the questions started getting raised when the masses have started using it as a place for information and staying updated with whatever is happening around the globe. In April 2015, the Global Web Index released a survey describing why people use social media. Of the top ten, explanation number one is obviously “social”—”to stay in touch with what my friends are doing.” But it’s worth noting that number two on the list is—”stay up-to-date with news and current events,” which has nothing to do with the social character of “social networking services” (as it was stated in the survey question). Looking for information, not necessarily about friends, but information in general has been a growing trend among social media users. Social networks are increasingly considered to be a source of content, although the content is generated by the users themselves as it is a platform that is open to all. This can become problematic when the news appears to be inaccurate or simply fake. Now, the question is over its authenticity; the problem is how the content is getting uploaded unrestrictedly, and the scary thing is how the platform is undermining democracy by getting politicized. Social Media, once seen as a profoundly democratic platform, is currently involved in serving the ill-desires of people who want to manipulate the minds of users by spreading fake news, fabricated stories, and articles to fulfill their political motive. Today, it is easier to roll out fake information on social media than to correct it, and it is easier to inflame social differences than to correct them. The very essence of how we communicate with Facebook and the rest now, lets the far-right, nationalist groups undermine the pillars of political systems—and even making it possible for them to take power.
Social media- A 21st century political weapon:
In ancient times, there were Jung/ Youdh between the rivals in some huge battlefield; with the advent of atomic energy and bombs, atomic wars started; after the 1950s, the game of cold war emerged between so many countries; and today, we have TWITTER WARS. Sounds idiotic? Well, that’s what we have really become, by giving the remote control of shaping our thoughts and ideas to social sites and by relying on its fake and politically motivated news. The fuss over the recent Toolkit case and the commotion over various inflammatory tweets during the 2020 US Elections are examples of how everybody is using this weapon to belittle the opposition but the sufferers of this battle are the innocent users who consider this disguised weapon as a platform of information. In other words, the greatest challenge to liberal democracy is not Trump, but how the algorithms that helped bring him in power are used as tools to overthrow democracy itself. Manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 other countries over the past year, damaging citizens’ ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate and in this dirty politics, the one which is consistently bleeding is our Democracy and the whole procedure of getting things done fairly. The issues like the three farm bills, NRC and CAA, are really important issues that need to be discussed at some proper place where the pros and cons can be discussed and analyzed because whatever the decision is, it is going to affect millions of people. It is not a case between A and B, but Thousands A v. Thousands B. But what is the current scenario? Rather than doing productive meetings and conferences, the politicians are discussing it on Twitter and Facebook. Both the Critics and Supporters of a certain issue are trying their level best to mould the Janta’s view in their favour, enraging the Janta to protest violently if the decision is not in their favour, posting religious content to gain the sympathy of janta because of the sensitive nature of the issue, especially in India where so many people belonging to different religions are living together. In the name of ‘Right to Speech’ and ‘Right to express oneself’, the abusive, inflammatory, sensitive and fake content is getting uploaded on these sites unrestrictedly. The main point is this: it’s not about free expression and what people share on these sites. It’s about what networks want to do with the content, which voices they want to amplify, which groups can flourish and even expand with the aid of their own algorithmic platforms.
During pre-internet times, the journalists always kept in mind the rules that have to be followed, and the editors verified before publishing that the articles meet the requirements of precision and durability, and then only the article was out for printing. On social media, everyone can become a journalist and anything can become a news story. This issue is overly complicated by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which has been widely over-interpreted to provide universal immunity to all internet companies—or “internet intermediaries”—for any third-party content they host. Many argue that to resolve some of these issues, Section 230, which traces its roots to 1996, must at least be updated. Section 230 states “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” So basically, if a news site falsely calls you a fraudster or swindler, you can sue the publisher for it. But, if somebody posts that on Facebook, you can’t sue the organization – simply the individual who posted it can be sued. This is how the organizers of these sites are shielding themselves from the accusations of amplifying this hatred on social media and not taking any productive step to reduce it so that users spend more time on these sites which ultimately will result in higher profits.
It is time to identify liability and keep the organizations responsible for how they support and participate in illegal and unethical activities just for monetary benefits. It is time that we keep our senses more alert while using social media because whatever we read or watch is a tangled web of truth and lies. We should understand that along with exercising our right to vote, we ought to take control of our very selves, our perceptions, our minds, and our psyches, to keep our shattering democracy in position.
 “Manipulating Social Media to Undermine Democracy.” Freedom House, freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2017/manipulating-social-media-undermine-democracy.
 “Problem of Fake News in India: Issues, Concerns and Regulation.” Drishti IAS, www.drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-news-editorials/the-problem-of-fake-news-in-india-issues-concerns-and-regulation. Accessed 22 Feb. 2021.
 Eisenstat, Yael. “How to Hold Social Media Accountable for Undermining Democracy.” Harward Business Law, 11 Jan. 2021, hbr.org/2021/01/how-to-hold-social-media-accountable-for-undermining-democracy. Accessed 22 Feb. 2021.
Author : Vidhi Periwal
Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala