Freedom of Expression- in times of Social media ‘Trolls’

Published by soundheartbeat on


At least 7 stand-up comedians have deactivated or protected their Twitter accounts after netizens dredged up deplorable old tweets and videos. Twitter users are scrupulously searching for content and tweets that implicate these comics for hurting the sentiments of people by making unsavoury remarks on the Hindu Gods and Goddesses, cracking jokes on historical figures, or sexually suggestive statements, the comedians, on the other hand, have been falling over themselves to either deactivate or protect their account, presumably to avoid retribution from the concerned authorities and stop the netizens from further scouring their Twitter timelines which could have provided them with more incriminating content.

It is to this end that the comedians, who had earlier vowed their unswerving commitment to ‘Freedom of Expression’ have quietly withdrawn their support to it and deactivated or protected their Twitter accounts.

Why do I care?  The FOE came to us with limited franchise. It isn’t absolute and it never was. Since it isn’t absolute, no one exactly knows where to draw a line. But every incident sets up a precedent for upcoming event, it has power to expand or curtail our freedom to express, depending upon our appetite. And currently, it doesn’t seem to be going in a positive direction.

Going in this pace we can someday end up being shackled in infinite restrictions. And restrictions effect societies very badly. Especially, free thinkers and artists, they end up censoring themselves. For example, Prof. Edward Said a renowned author, who applied his education and bi-cultural perspective to illuminating the gaps of cultural and political understanding between the Western world and the Eastern world, especially about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict in the Middle East in an interaction with Salman Rushdie explains how a narrative can drive you to a tight corner of seclusion. Here is an excerpt* from the conversation:

SALMAN RUSHDIE: Has there been any change in your ability to publish or talk about the Palestinian issue?
EDWARD SAID: To some extent. There are fewer hospitable places, and you end up publishing for a smaller audience. Ironically, you also become tokenized, so that whenever there is a hijacking or some such incident, I get phone-calls from the media asking me to come along and comment. It’s a very strange feeling to be seen as a kind of representative of terrorism. You’re treated like a diplomat of terrorism, with a place at the table. I remember one occasion, though, when I was invited to a television debate with the Israeli ambassador—I think it was about the Achille Lauro incident. Not only would he not sit in the same room with me; he wanted to be in a different building, so as not to be contaminated by my presence.

Does constant backlash hold us back from expressing ourself fully and freely ?- the answers in Edward Said’s words is ‘to some extent’. This is not just limited to individual expression but also creative expressionism at large including that of writers, filmakers,painters and comedians etc.

Disagreement can serve as a tool for betterment of creativity but if disagreement takes form of abuses, FIR, Threat to life what will it result in? Not everyone is Sadat Hasan Manto who put his freedom of expression above everything, After getting served with multiple police complaints, FIRs and court cases people end up self censoring themselves. Every script goes through a panel of lawyers for approval because at the end business matters, you have to think in terms of money. Once you fall victim to narrative people don’t want to be associated with you anymore or say don’t want to be contaminated by your presence.

Can government solely uphold the freedom of expression? In 2006 one of the most distinguished figures of modern art M F Husain had to leave India and live in self-imposed exile until his death despite full support and protection from the government of India, because he knew the paralyzed state of government against mob. Also, since the government has the responsibility of maintaining law and order,it sometimes ends up choosing law and order to someone’s right to express.What exactly makes a mob? -A number of aggrieved us. Therefore, we need to be more patient and accepting in our daily lives. Voltaire said, “I could have disagreement with your thoughts but I’ll defend to death your right to say it.” In every disagreement there should be some scope for dialogue and it should be resolved through it.Let’s be kind to each other.

-Has anything ever held u back from writing what you want to write? Feel free to share your thoughts here.

*the excerpt is from Salman Rushdie’s collection of essays ‘Imaginary Homeland’.


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