Social medias powder keg restrains judges from asking searching questions


Social media is a no-holds barred medium. To be a controversial or popular figure on social media, the person needs to read only Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution — “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech” — and stream out his/her views on everything under the sun.
It is no disqualification for tweet-activists if they lack basic knowledge of an incident or subject before posting comments. And there are troll armies, who get fixated with a certain ideology and target those with contrasting views through non-stop jabbering. Both tweet-activists and troll armies are always up to their shenanigans.
Recently, a famed public interest lawyer and activist was dismayed by the absence of a popular anchor on Mirror Now channel. He did not bother to ascertain the facts before pulling the tweet trigger, “One of our finest TV journalists (the name) has resigned (made to) from Mirror Now. She raised the biggest issues and spoke truth to power. Obviously it annoyed the establishment, who then put pressure on the management to replace her. Very unfortunate.”
This gentleman believed the rumour mills and resorted to insinuations just because an anchor was off air for some days! Made to resign, spoke truth to power to obviously annoy establishment, establishment putting pressure on management and management succumbing to such pressure from establishment — were products of his fertile imagination. He concluded it was very unfortunate.
Indeed, it was unfortunate that such a renowned person spoke without cross-checking facts. But he appears to be a little more conscientious than most Twitter activists. Weeks later, he attempted to make amends by tweeting, “I find that (the woman) is still anchoring the Mirror Now programme. Seems I had misunderstood the reasons for her resigning as executive editor of Mirror Now. I, therefore, withdraw the tweet with apologies to the management.” An irresponsible act was washed down with a half remorse — “seems I had misunderstood”.
Repeating falsehood, circulating accusations and commenting without context has become the norm for activists and trolls on social media. And this is a prime reason why Supreme Court judges are getting increasingly wary of asking questions to counsel in sensitive matters. They apprehend their questions could get ill-contextualised by the fastest finger first norm on social media and create controversy.
Restrictions on free speech and expression, pertaining to “sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement of an offence”, seldom apply to social media activists or trolls. While posting a comment on social media, they are the advocate, judge and jury.
Whether or not a person has been honourably cleared of accusations matter little to those who post views on social media quoting the accusations long after these have been found to be false. In targeting a person, social media activists and troll armies have their own rules. An opposition leader getting cleared of rape charges by the SC or a top political executive getting a clean chit in a controversy relating to alleged snooping of a woman appear to have no recall value for social media activists. But when a judicial inquiry clears a judge of sexual harassment charges, what becomes the topic of discussion is the judge but not the falsehood of the complaint.
Having said so, there are a few judges in constitutional courts who need to exercise restraint while holding court. They need to realise that the constitutional power, dignity and respect bestowed upon the seat she/he occupies is for dispensation of justice without fear or favour. Social media platforms, where incidents get reported within seconds, is a good antigen for some motormouth judges, who think they lord over laOriginal Article