Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh has filed FIRs against 10 websites, including social networking hubs Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. There’s no denying that a lot of hate mail is out there. If the originators of hate mail can be identified Singh would be perfectly within his rights to move cases of defamation, perhaps even incitement, against them. But it’s misunderstanding the nature of new media to hold them culpable for messages that may be carried by them. That’s akin to suing the telecom company if two people should have a hateful conversation – or even plan a criminal operation – over the telephone. Just as the telephone company cannot possibly disconnect all such conversations, websites don’t have the means to filter out discordant messages among the millions of conversations that they carry daily.
Also, a degree of robustness is called for in politics. Lampooning, after all, is a fine art of Indian politics. And Singh himself is known to breathe fire against his rivals. A sensible response to what’s deemed unworthy behaviour is ignoring it – not unleashing a barrage of FIRs against host websites. Otherwise, what’s next? Agitations against apps? Fasts against Facebook? Demands to lodge Mark Zuckerberg in Tihar? It’s time our politicians smelt a very real change. Today, they’re facing a public that’s equipped via multimedia to talk back to them – and that will include virtual brickbats as well as bouquets. Public life demands that leaders handle all forms of criticism with equanimity and insight. They would be well advised, in fact, to utilise the new media and turn the internet and social networking sites in their favour – as Barack Obama did to brilliant effect while contesting the 2008 presidential election in the US.