Written by Siddharth Manohar
The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a petition to block websites of dominant social media platforms, on the ground that they were used to spread videos of gang rapes and to facilitate a market for child prostitution. The two Judge bench of Justices UU Lalit and Madan B Lokur reasoned that blocking these sites was not a feasible solution, as it would set a trend of blocking wide parts of internet access to solve specific problems with how it is used.
The decision is in light of a petition filed by Hyderabad-based NGO Prajwala, asking the Court to ban social media websites used to traffic children and put in place a mechanism to monitor the content circulated through mobile applications such as Whatsapp. The same bench had in April recognized the importance of regulating objectionable sexual material being circulated through social media applications. This was based on suo-motu cognizance of a letter addressed to the then Chief Justice of India HL Dattu, asking the Court to take action against those responsible for posting a video of an incident of gang rape on social media.
The Court has asked the Additional Solicitor General to look into why no action was taken against the social media platforms by the police who were dealing with the cases. The Centre had earlier communicated that it is difficult to monitor content which is circulated through mobile phones, and even more so to find the culprit starting the process. Tracking the user becomes much easier, they said, when a computer is used in spreading the objectionable content.
The Court did however refer to the Central Government the important question of whether these social media platforms can be prosecuted for their role in spreading offensive material such as video recordings of rape and child pornography. The Court added that they would wait for a response from the Central Government before deciding what action ought to be taken in the matter.