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Legal Implications of Social Media Impact on Political Discourse and Opinion Formation

Social media is an intermediary (such as on websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos). Over the past two decades, the world has witnessed a drastic change in the political scenario, with the introduction of social media, the political scenario has changed. However, this change also brought in new problems like misinformation, manipulation, and hate crimes.

This has posed a challenge to ethical politics. This article aims to delve deeper into the various provisions by giving an example of contemporary events that provide a realistic understanding of the legal implications impact of social media on political discourse and opinion formation.

Introduction
Media holds impeccable power in the spreading of news, narratives, and political opinions. It is that power that inspires every politician to create social media handles and participate in the vast world of connected social media like Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), and Instagram. However, this power of social media, while being used irresponsibly, can result in misinformation, rumors, and in extreme case scenarios like riots, manipulation, and hate speech.

This blog aims to explore the various nuances of social media and its impact on the current political discourse and opinion formation. The recent incident involving BJP MLA Sunil Kamble in Maharashtra unveils a concerning trend of political aggression. Allegedly, Kamble resorted to a physical altercation, purportedly slapping an NCP worker and a police constable in Pune during his visit to Sasson Hospital for the inauguration of a transgender ward. His purported motive stemmed from the exclusion of his name from the program's banner, triggering a regrettable outburst.

The episode swiftly gained traction on social media platforms, disseminating widely circulated videos capturing the altercation. Kamble's subsequent defense, asserting that he merely pushed the constable aside, failed to assuage public skepticism, particularly given his prior history of contentious behavior.

This incident underscores the potency of social media in enforcing accountability and responsibility among political figures to the general public. The rapid dissemination of visual evidence across platforms underscores the inability of political missteps to evade public scrutiny and law. Opposition voices condemned the incident on social media branding it as emblematic of arrogance within the ruling coalition which led to greater public condemnation. Calls for disciplinary action against Kamble reverberated, amplifying demands for accountability within political echelons.

In essence, the altercation involving Sunil Kamble serves as a stark reminder of social media's pivotal role in political discourses and accountability mechanisms awarded to the general public in a democratic institution. Its capacity to illuminate and critique actions underscores its indispensable function in fostering transparent governance and public trust because of the constant digital surveillance of those in power.

The Inception
Mark Zuckerberg is regarded as one of the most prominent figures in the world of social media, bringing a revolution in the field of Information technology by creating Facebook, probably the most successful social media platform ever. Politicians were quick to catch up on the potential of Zuckerberg's creation and utilized this opportunity to the very best. Social media created a safe space for everyone to be heard and seen in the vast web of internet and this is where the politicians struck their hammer. Their charismatic way of portraying information that could move the masses proved to be highly successful. The ruling parties did their very best to win over with their narrative while the opposition party used this medium to bring transparency and expose the accountability of the ruling parties/leaders.

Risks and Benefits
While social media was a chaotic place full of people trying to push forward their narrative, it also became a place of accountability. Every action was observed by millions of people and this resulted in the increased awareness of the masses. The era of fooling the public and deep dependence on the press was over and a new platform for free speech and expression was introduced to the fast-changing world.

However, this also resulted in the spread of nuanced narratives that were responsible for misinformation, commonly called the product of "WhatsApp University" where false information was portrayed convincingly and widely accepted.

Impact of Social Media on Politics
Social media has become an inseparable organ of political opinion formation and its impact is highly crucial for people affiliated with politics. Cambridge Analytica, a name that resonates in this domain, revealed the murky depths of social media manipulation on votes leading to Britain's exit or Brexit from the European Union. The 2018 scandal surrounding Cambridge Analytica jolted the tech scene, exposing how the company infringed data of millions of Facebook users without their knowledge. This cache of personal data fuelled targeted political messaging to sway public sentiment during the Brexit referendum that would influence voting patterns which may allow the referendum to pass leading to Britain's exit from the EU.

Cambridge Analytica's tactics epitomized social media's sway. By dissecting user data, they crafted personalized messages to exploit people's fears, prejudices, and convictions. This pinpointed approach had a profound effect, subtly shaping the Brexit discourse and molding voter behavior. The uproar from the scandal raised pivotal questions about data privacy, online ethics, and social media's role in democracy or shaping public opinion for that matter. The Cambridge Analytica debacle serves as a stark reminder for users and policymakers alike. It emphasizes the importance of grasping the hazards linked with online platforms shaping the narrative of people. The Cambridge Analytica saga marked a pivotal juncture in the ongoing discourse on social media's sway over its influence on politics and society.

Social media had minimal usage in the 2009 elections however, in the 2014 general elections, Facebook had 294 million users, and Twitter with around 33 million users in India. LAMAI's report suggested that major parties set around 2-5% of their election budget for social media campaigning ranging from 400-500 crores.

Challenges and Suggestive Outcomes
The most prominent challenges of using social media as a political tool pose are � Authenticity, Transparency, and Unbiases. Misuse of social media is prudent and despite having various legal provisions to curb the misinformation, social media is still used as a propaganda tool. The spread of harmful content is one of the major challenges of social media. Various narratives can be formed revolving around pictures/videos shared on social media which can be used to mislead people.

Conclusion
In this digital era, social media can be used to convey various groundbreaking ideas, increase awareness, and move the masses. Various statistics, photos, and videos can be used to reach the masses and create a long-lasting impact. However, it is important to use this power ethically. Social media should be used to improve transparency, and being open to criticism and addressing the issues of people should be the very aim instead of using manipulative tactics to persuade the masses.

References
  1. Abhilash Boruah, "Impact of Social Media on Political Discourse and Shaping Public Opinion: A Comprehensive Study on The Students of Dibrugarh University" https://www.ijfmr.com/papers/2023/5/6710.pdf (accessed on February 15, 2024)
  2. Mohammed Saaida, "The Role of Social Media in Shaping Political Discourse and Propaganda", https://www.researchgate.net/publication/372936619_The_Role_of_Social_Media_in_Shaping_Political_Discourse_and_Propaganda (accessed on February 15, 2024)
  3. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Social media". Encyclopedia Britannica, 14 Feb. 2024, https://www.britannica.com/topic/social-media. Accessed 15 February 2024.
  4. Cadwalladr, Carole. "The Great British Brexit Robbery: How our democracy was hijacked." The Guardian, May 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/07/the-great-british-brexit-robbery-hijacked-democracy.
  5. Graham-Harrison, Emma, and Cadwalladr, Carole. "Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in the major data breach." The Guardian, March 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/cambridge-analytica-facebook-influence-us-election.
End Notes:
  • Hindustan Times (Pune, January 2024) https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/bjp-mla-slaps-on-policeman-on-duty-101704482430661.html
  • Carole Cadwalladr, The Great British Brexit Robbery: How our democracy was hijacked The Guardian (London, May 2017) https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/07/the-great-british-brexit-robbery-hijacked-democracy
  • Emma Graham-Harrison and Carole Cadwalladr, Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach The Guardian (London, March 2018) https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/cambridge-analytica-facebook-influence-us-election
  • Mayank Saxena and Deepak Adhana, Role of Social Media in the Changing Face of Indian Politics: A Study with Special Reference to Facebook (2020)
Written By:
  • Ojas Sharma, B.A.LL.B(Hons.) Maharashtra National Law University Nagpur, [email protected]
  • Garvit Gupta, B.A.LL.B(Hons.) Maharashtra National Law University Nagpur, [email protected]

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