Social media and human rights: friend or foe?

Social media and human rights: friend or foe?

The term “social media” refers to a variety of cyber or Internet-based network programs that facilitate the delivery of user-generated content. Social media platforms come in a variety of formats, such as blogs, social games, chat rooms, etc.

At a very early stage, these platforms were used as a way to communicate, share thoughts, perceptions and knowledge. Social media has made it easier for us to exercise our freedom of expression, which is one of our fundamental and constitutional rights.

We prefer to put our distinctive behavior on social media and express our own views, attitudes, roles or values. Social media platforms provide us with such a stage to exercise freedom of speech and expression without interference. This freedom is protected by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of 1966.

According to Article 19 of the UDHR, “everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression, including the freedom to hold opinions without interference and the freedom to explore, collect and disseminate ideas across borders and through any medium.”

The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh also ensures freedom of thought and conscience in Article 39 as fundamental rights, where every citizen can enjoy this right. While the use of social media has led to some appropriate practices, it is also impossible to overlook a serious negative effect.

In the name of freedom of speech and expression, some of us use social media to defame others, publicly humiliate them and mislead others with false information. Serious offenses such as hacking, cyberbullying, harassment, identity theft, fabrication of news, obscene content, fraud and cheating etc. are committed.

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Apps like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Bigo Live, Likee, Twitter and WhatsApp have proven to be important platforms for various anti-social acts and heinous crimes. The Digital Security Act (DSA) of 2018, the Pornography Control Act of 2012, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulation Act of 2001, and other policies and guidelines have been enacted to ensure online security and protection of human rights on social media.

Section 28 and 29 of DSA, 2018 stated that publication or broadcasting of such information in electronic media or websites which inhibits religious sentiments and contains defamatory information is considered an offence. Anyone who commits such an offense shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years or with fine not exceeding Tk20 lakh or with both for hurting religious sentiments; and for defamatory information up to five years imprisonment or not exceeding Tk5 lakh, or both.

“Hacking” is also an offense under section 34 of the DSA Act; Whoever commits such an offense is punished with up to 14 years imprisonment or a fine not exceeding 1 crore or both. Anyone who contributes to an offense under the DSA in 2018 section 35 shall be punished in the same way as the offender. But according to a report by the Cybercrime Awareness Foundation, hacking cases of social media accounts and other online accounts now stand at 28.31% – an increase of almost 13% from 2019.

Social media platforms such as TikTok, Bigo Live, Likee and Facebook sometimes spread obscene content that violates community standards. Nude or semi-nude videos and still images are included in the definition of pornography under section 2 of the Pornography Control Act of 2012. In addition, pornography is defined as any content that has the potential to arouse sexual excitement or urge. Section 8(1) of the Act stipulates a penalty of up to eight years’ imprisonment and a penalty of up to Tk 200,000, just for taking a picture or video clip.

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Despite these strict provisions, pictures or recordings of cases of sexual harassment or private moments are increasing alarmingly. Last year, the rate of harassment through photos or videos of intimate moments or instances of sexual harassment was 7.69%, but it has risen to 9.34% this year.

According to the latest data, the rate of harassment using photoshopped photographs increased from 5.85% last year to 6.93%. But, unfortunately, from a survey, it appears that 43.22% of victims are aware of the legislation related to cybercrime that violates human rights, while the rest 56.78% have no knowledge about it.

BTRC, CSIR Team, Digital Security Agency, CERT, DMP Cyber ​​Crime Unit, Cyber ​​Security and Crime Division are working 24/7 to ensure safe and secure cyber space in Bangladesh. Yet, according to the survey report titled “Cybercrime Trend in Bangladesh-2022”, only 7% victims of cybercrime get the desired help from the police.

So, social media is therefore a “friend” that enables a way to exercise freedom of expression and thought, and an “enemy” that consistently violates many of the human rights.

Dewan Alif Ovi is a researcher, contributor and LLM student.

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