Can public officials block you on social media?



Recently, I noticed that I could no longer add the official pseudonym of Karnataka Police Director General (DGP) Praveen Sood – @DGPKarnataka – to my Twitter posts. Upon closer examination, I realized that the DGP office had prevented me from following his official pseudonym or viewing his messages.

For the uninitiated, the blockage is broadly of two kinds. First, the government can order social media intermediaries such as Twitter to block accounts to promote ill will, to wage war on the state, or for such reasons (although in reality the provision is often used simply to silence government critics). Second, an individual can prevent someone else from seeing their posts or interacting with them on the platform.

In my case, I suspect that I was blocked because I was vehement in my criticism of police brutality during the lockdown and the recent cases of torture in custody, which could have caused some unease among senior officials in the police. police. But the action seems to be the work of a stooge, because Sood did not block me from accessing his personal account. Nonetheless, this raises an important question: Can officials impose such restrictions on people in order to stifle criticism?

Although this continues to be a gray area in India, the issue has been repeatedly pointed out by courts in the United States. Several courts have ruled that the public has the right to access information on social media, the denial of which amounts to a violation of the U.S. First Amendment. Among other rights, the First Amendment protects “freedom of speech, freedom of the press, of assembly and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.”

In Knight First Amendment Institute v. Donald Trump, a court ruled that preventing people, based on their views, from accessing even the private accounts of public persons that are used for official purposes constitutes a violation of the First Amendment. Another court had ruled that the essential character of a Twitter account is not fixed forever because “private accounts can turn into government accounts, if it becomes an organ of official affairs.” However, not all personal accounts of officials can automatically be considered public, especially if they are used for strictly private purposes.

In India, such restrictions conflict with Article 19 (1) (a), the right to freedom of speech and expression, which is our equivalent of the First Amendment. While social media facilitates two-way interaction with the public, most politicians and bureaucrats simply use it as a platform to blow their own trumpets. While there are ways to take action against those who engage in personal and malicious attacks or character assassination, blocking those who highlight failures of government, officials or elected officials is a gross impropriety and is regressive in nature, although it is not illegal. from now on.

Read more: Ministry of Informatics May Post FAQ on New Social Media Rules in 1-2 Weeks

Senior IAS Officer P Manivannan had amply demonstrated how social media could be used in effective governance while at the helm of the Information & Publicity department. The department’s Twitter account @KarnatakaVarthe had gained popularity as any issues or complaints raised would be resolved within one day. Such proactive measures increase the confidence of ordinary citizens in the government apparatus.

Sadly, most officials have failed to harness the true potential of social media as a platform to receive and respond to comments and criticism. Perhaps they should take inspiration from the words of leadership strategist Glenn Llopis: “Leadership is not a popularity contest. Criticism is a natural part of leadership. If no one is critical of your leadership, you are not leading properly.

(Ms. Gautham Machaiah has scoured print, electronic and digital media wearing both reporter and corporate dresses @GauthamMachaiah)


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