DIGITAL DIVIDE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
Updated: Feb 2
Digital divide has been defined as the unequal access to modern technologies between demographics and regions that do have access, and those who do not or have limited access. For the most part, we will find innumerable articles that speak about access and inclusivity. In their defence, these two issues have taken the front seat today as “The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the educational system of the country into disarray.” (Bheemeshwar Reddy A, 2020) However, there is a side to the digital divide that is not often spoken about, and that is its impact on social justice. When we look at digital divides from the lens of judicial processes of the State and apply this to countries like India or China, it opens a whole new can of worms. When individual citizens, especially those who do not fully understand the digital world, create, store and/or voluntarily share information through social media and Google etc. they leave a digital footprint that may be used against them by the State. Now key to the problem here is that the implications of leaving a digital footprint are not fully understood or acknowledged by citizens and therefore, certain sections of the society become highly vulnerable. States may brand sections or people of the society anti-national based on their digital activities. Thus, what I propose is that digital divide is followed by unequal access to social justice due to lack of knowledge and may result in inequality of representation before the law.
In 2019 the government of India proposed the Personal Data Protection Bill (PDPB) that set rules for collecting, processing, and storing of information provided by citizens. The bill listed people’s rights regarding their personal information and even proposed the creation of a regulatory authority, Data Protection Authority (DPA), to exact the law. However, and surprisingly enough, the bill also stated ground for exemption. The bill would give the “Central government the power to exempt any government agency from the bill’s requirements. This exemption can be given on grounds related to national security, national sovereignty, and public order.” (Burman, 2020) Now, to the effect that such exemption may be given in matters of real national security threats, the exemption may be deemed worthy. However, consider the recent acts of paternalism on the part of the central government during and after the CAA-NRC protests, especially the one in Shaheen Bagh. “Umar Khalid and Sharjeel Imam charge sheeted in the case related to a larger conspiracy in north east Delhi riots in February had decided to use social media for large scale indoctrination and mobilisation of youths for Chakka Jaam as a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB)”, police has alleged. Delhi Police in the charge sheet alleged that the protests against CAA and the state were never peaceful since its inception and the ultimate object of these protests was large-scale pre-planned violence against the state.” (PTI, 2020) In a bid to tighten the noose around those who found CAA-NRC unconstitutional, the police filed a charge sheet without once revealing any hard proof of the ‘facts’ that it claimed. Of course, the relevance of PDPB here is only conjecture as it has not yet become an Act. Yet one cannot help but wonder about the atrocities the central government will commit once PDPB is put into force, considering it has been successful in turning fiction into facts without PDPB.
Now, if at all this case were to reach the apex body of our judicial system, one may assume that the Supreme Court will allow the central government to further investigate Umar Khalid basis his posts on social media that may/may not have incited violence or acts that could be considered in many corridors ‘anti-national’. Unfortunately, however, the matter of such total authority exercised by the central government in this case cannot be ruled out as being singular. With each such case the government, it would seem, is becoming more totalitarian. Which means, that even harmless posts or clicks on links may be an act against the nation or its beliefs. In fact, with no system of checks and balances imposed on authorities that will be exempted, who knows what this government will do. Thus, we can further assert that one must have intimate knowledge of the digital transformation in India, and the workings of digital companies and their privacy laws before posting another ‘suspiciously’ anti-national post. Because let us face it, in India, as it has been going for a few years now, suspicion is as good as certainty. Unfortunately, however, this does not only reflect poorly on the government, it reflects poorly on us, the citizens also. And companies such as Yahoo or AOL.
Companies like Yahoo and AOL for long had been trying to make the internet easier to use. Of course, by ‘easier to use’ they meant ‘dumbing down’ the internet to make it more accessible to everyone. “While in theory a good idea, it is causing serious side effects. One aspect that ‘dumbing down’ the internet creates is: Internet Navigation helps users find what they are looking for by clicking a series of buttons. Although by making simple Internet searches easier, uneducated users can inadvertently be swayed by information from advertisements.” (Robert, 2020) What this means is that private companies too must be held accountable in bridging the gap called digital divide. But not at the cost of civil liberty, social justice, and accountability.
In the end, Indians should be wary of the content they push on their social media accounts. As the government becomes more authoritative, the noose around our necks will likely tighten. Slowly but impetuously.
Cover Image: Source