‘Trial by Social Media’ – A Boon or Stress Booster?

    30 June – World Social Media Day 

    We know social media day is observed annually on 30 June. Today  is 30 June 2020 and I am taking this opportunity to pen down something relating to the social media & law. Now  the question that naturally arises is how on earth these two terms social media & law are related to each other? Well that’s exactly what this article is all about. So let’s begin

    Media

    The word ‘Media’ is basically derived from its plural form ‘Medium'[1]. It is the means of communication. There are two categories of media – (1) Print Media & (2) Electronic Media. However we can classify media into 4 types – 

    (1) Print Media (Newspapers, magazines)  

    (2) Broadcasting Media (TV, radio) 

    (3) Outdoor or Out Of Home (OOH) media (Public banners) 

    (4) [Social Media] (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)

    and it is the ‘Media Law’ which has given the Media a recognition in the field of law. The history of media law could be traced to the British rule in India where print media was used as a powerful medium by the freedom fighters. The print media of those days voluntarily took part in the freedom of struggle. There are several cases with regards to this like that of,  Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. and Ors. V. The Union Of India 1961 Which dealt with freedom of the press[2]. 

    Social  Media

    According to Aristotle, human beings are ‘Social animals[3]’ and therefore naturally seek the companionship of others as part of their well being. [Social Media] is a means of socializing through media. Certain websites & applications that enable users to create & share content or to participate in social networking are known as social media. 

    This social media is not only an online platform which people use to build social networks or social relationships with other people but also being used to promote a product or service in the form of social media marketing thus the importance of [Social Media] in our day to day life is quite obvious.

    Covid19 Pandemic

    This year in 2020 due to the current unfortunate scenario of  Covid19  pandemic the [Social Media] happens to be a blessing in disguise as well as a source of pressure. To avoid the virus we are advised to maintain social distance physically leading to [Social Media] the only means to connect with people around us maintaining the required social distance. Since the initial days of lockdown, [Social Media] has been a boon which not only safeguarded our certain fundamental rights such as right to information and right to freedom of speech & expression but also gave rise to virtual courts, works from home, webinars as well as increased the use of online classes, virtual conferences, online shopping etc.  

    The Trial By Social  Media

    In the field of law or in other words in the legal world, there is a very popular phrase called – ‘Trial by media’ which is all about the concept where certain court cases are believed to have their outcome affected by extensive media coverage(Mostly print & broadcast media coverage. In this trial by media concept where the media itself does a separate investigation, builds a public opinion against the accused even before the court takes cognizance of the case. The social media nowadays plays a very crucial role to build & spread that ‘Public opinion’. Due to the lockdown, work from home and online education concepts now people are spending more time in the virtual world thus they have enough time to share their respective opinions over the social media.

    There is no doubt that trial by media has exposed several criminals of many high profile cases but we know everything has a positive as well as a negative side. According to Justice Kurian Joseph of The Supreme Court of India – Trial by media on pending cases amounts to contempt of court[4]. Now the question is ‘What about the trial by Social Media?’ On what basis people on social media are allowed to spread speculations on a pending case specifically? 

    Of course, we have freedom of speech & expression is our fundamental right[5] guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(a) of the constitution of India but the same constitution also provides for ‘Reasonable restrictions[6]’ over our fundamental rights under Article 19 (2). So to what extent this trial by social media is justified? 

    If we go through posts on social media we would see, there are speculations as well as virtual investigations and judgments by people not only on those cases which are over but also on those cases which are pending in a court of law and on several other matters. Maybe they are right in their opinion or maybe they are not…..that’s a different matter altogether but the main question is in between all of these where is the faith of common people in our ‘Indian Judiciary System’? If there is a lack of faith who is to be blamed for this? The people on social media or our judiciary system? 

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    This trial by social media undoubtedly pressures our judiciary system but how impactful it is for the society as a whole? There is a huge difference between trial by media & trial by social media as in case of trial by social media the source of knowledge & information is very limited and only confined to the virtual world. There are fewer investigations and more speculations thus it is more harmful than helpful. In certain cases however exceptions lie but we can’t count on only exceptions, right? Yes, we can’t rule out the possibility of success by social media trial but there is also a possible risk of it affecting not only the judiciary but also the mental health of people. Can we deny that? People are spending 24/7 putting their mind on something which ‘Maybe’ is nothing but mere speculation….the reality may be something different you never know. That’s giving birth to the question: Trial by Social Media – a boon or a stress booster?

    Endnotes

    1  Media Law & Ethics: M Neelamalar 

    1. Media Law & Ethics: M Neelamalar Chapter 3 Page 22
    2. Politics : 1253a
    3. https://www.supremecourtcases.com/
    4. Constitutional Law Of India: J N PANDEY
    5. Constitutional Law Of India: J N PANDEY

    ARPITA DEY | Department of Law, Hooghly Mohsin College

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