SC on Shaheen Bagh: social media channels can create highly polarised environments

Shaheen Bagh Republic Day

New Delhi, Oct 7 : The Supreme Court on Wednesday made a critical observation on the use of social media to drive the protest at Shaheen Bagh.

A bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari said the ability to scale up quickly, for example, using digital infrastructure has empowered movements to embrace their often-leaderless aspirations and evade usual restrictions of censorship. “However, the flip side to this is that social media channels are often fraught with danger and can lead to the creation of highly polarised environments, which often see parallel conversations running with no constructive outcome evident”, said the top court.

The bench said both these scenarios were witnessed in Shaheen Bagh, which started out as a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, gained momentum across cities to become a movement of solidarity for the women and their cause, but came with its fair share of problems – as has been opined by the interlocutors and caused inconvenience of commuters.

The bench noted that in the age of internet social movements around the world have swiftly integrated digital connectivity into their toolkit; be it for organising, publicity or effective communication. “Technology, however, in a near paradoxical manner, works to both empower digitally fuelled movements and at the same time, contributes to their apparent weaknesses”, said the top court.

Citing the protest at Shaheen Bagh blocking the public road, the top court said it has no hesitation in concluding that such kind of occupation of public ways, whether at the site in question or anywhere else for protests is not acceptable and the administration ought to take action to keep the areas clear of encroachment or obstruction.

Pulling up the administration in not managing the situation, the bench said they should not hide behind court orders or seek support therefrom for carrying out their administrative functions. “We only hope that such a situation does not arise in the future and protests are subject to the legal position as enunciated above, with some sympathy and dialogue, but are not permitted to get out of hand. We, accordingly, close these proceedings, once again expressing our appreciation of the difficult roles played by the interlocutors,” said the top court, disposing of the civil appeals.

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