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SC warns social media

New Delhi, Aug. 16: The Supreme Court today held that there cannot be unbridled freedom of speech on social media as it could potentially wreak havoc by spreading rumours on communal, political and other issues disturbing public tranquillity.

The court declined to entertain a petition by social networking site mouthshut.com, challenging the validity of the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 as violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

The petition contended that one of the rules, which said the website owner would be arrested if an objectionable post was not removed within 48 hours, violated the freedom of speech and expression and the rights to equality and personal liberty.

“You are doing your business. But it is subject to reasonable restrictions. You have to prove that it is unreasonable restrictions. Prima facie we don’t feel it is,” Justice Gokhale, heading the bench, told senior counsel Huzefi Ahmadi who sought quashing of the provision.

The apex court did not agree with the submission that such restrictions infringed on any of the three rights.

“In a large country like India, where crores of people are there, sometimes such publicity will create huge problems and havoc, particularly, when the matter relates to political or religious issue. We have to look at the issue from a holistic point of view. You can see what has happened recently. There was that strife and violent incidents in Myanmar, but it had its impact in India because of the rumours spread,” Justice Gokhale said.

“Thousands of people from the Northeast particularly from Bangalore had to flee the different states and go back to their native places. We have a host of problems in this country.”

When the counsel persisted that there has to be an adjudicatory mechanism, the court merely said: “We will look into it.”

The court rejected the petitioner’s plea that a notice be issued to the Centre to ascertain its response. “This idea of giving notice we don’t agree. It will be misunderstood that by giving the notice the matter is under our consideration. It will be assumed that we are seized of the matter,” it said.