What is sauce for mainstream media should be sauce for social media too

It’s worth recalling English jurist Jeremy Bentham’s observation, “Where there is no publicity, there is no justice. Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the keenest spur to exertion and the surest of all guards against improbity. It keeps the judge himself while trying, under trial.” Quoted in a few landmark judgments of yesteryears — such as the Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar case — this Bentham gem is a reminder of the old toss up between the open justice system and privacy coupled with a fair trial. A debate rekindled by the recent Supreme Court verdict that allows postponement of publication in select and sensitive trials. Yet again, the mainstream media under the scanner.

The same week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh raised the issue of the abuse of social media by mischievous elements, in his meeting with Directors General of Police. Two authorities, two separate concerns. Today, there are defamation suits claiming damages of a hundred crore over a tweet, filed in India. So why is regulation, which constantly haunts the mainstream media, considered a bad word in the context of the social media? It’s all very well to keep placing checks and balances for newspapers and television channels, but what about the possible world ‘wild’ web sections on Twitter and Facebook? Public opinion is created, cemented and disseminated much faster on these platforms. Hours before a primetime discussion on national television could take place or a strongly worded editorial could come out, the verdict was out on Twitter and Facebook on the biggest stories of the week. On cartoonist Aseem. On the Koodankulam protest. Both these cases were being heard in courts. Can it be anyone’s contention that tweets, re-tweets, wall posts or tags are any less potent? That they come with diminished potential of influencing minds that matter? I’d say there is more hard-hitting and incisive commentary on this platform. The 140 character brevity is now a fine art! Two sets of rules? At least, there are editors to take the rap for objectionable content in news reports. Who will take responsibility for trolls and orchestrated vilification campaigns on the social media? Twitter Inc., which does not even have an office in India? Anonymous folks or worse, those with fake identities who revel in sniper shots?

While there is anger on the social network, there is also the softer side. Some of the most sentimental comments on Yuvraj Singh’s comeback and the passing away of the ‘Milkman of India’ Verghese Kurien were not on television or the papers but on walls and through tweets. And yes, on the Amul billboards too, I’ve grown up admiring.

Away from the wisecracks and counter arguments, may I accuse Facebook of making us remember to forget? With the advent of mobile phones, we stopped remembering numbers. With Facebook, we invariably end up forgetting to wish relatives and friends who are not on this network. We’ve become so accustomed to clicking on the home page for that birthday chart. Now, I do hope your wedding anniversary doesn’t slip your mind. Because for some things in life, there are no reminders. For everything else, there’s Facebook!

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