How Social Media Platforms made Right to Privacy into a relic of the past     

Reading time : 8 minutes

Introduction: Privacy in the 21st Century

When George Orwell wrote 1984, it raised the question of privacy. It followed the story of Wilson, a worker trying to resist the government known as Big Brother[1]. Big Brother was an authoritative regime that constantly observed its people, leaving no room for private space. Its branch, the Ministry of Truth, punishes anyone with a different opinion. A 1949 written novel has more relevance in the 21st Century, especially with the rise of social media[2].

In the Indian legal spectrum, Article 21 of our constitution makes the right to privacy both fundamental and human right. The Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India made Article 21 the golden child of fundamental rights. The reason is, the right to life and personal liberties have expanded their scope. Privacy exists in the said scope, so the laws must safeguard them[3].

On an international scale, UDHR and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights recognize the right to privacy (Article 17 of the latter)[4]. Unfortunately, governments and corporations scoff at privacy by collecting private user data for their agendas. For example, the Patriot Act came into effect post 9/11 for surveilling people without any consent. The detractors criticized the act for its invasive methods and allegedly selling data to the CIA[5].

When social media rose in the 2000s, it was revolutionary. It brought people from different parts of the world much closer. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and MySpace perfected the already expanding internet and infotainment. Fast forward to 2022, many detractors now revile social media for its complacency, censorship policies, and above all, invading privacy for either advertisers or the governments. Cancel culture, media trials, idol-worshipping, and so on has also led to invading’s someone’s privacy on social media (By revealing their personal information online)[6].

The Problems with social media platforms with reference to cases and scandals

Social media played a benevolent role in making the current socio-political climate more divisive. When the farmers’ protest was at its height,  people of different political perspectives pointlessly argued while ignoring the main protest itself. Social media has successfully turned a well-intentioned movement into a political atomic bomb[7].

My personal experience with social media platforms[8]

When internet censorship rose, people became scared to use the platforms. Let me elucidate it by talking about my experiences with Google Plus. Back in 2015-16, I used to post offensive memes on Google Plus, which was Google’s social media platform. Long story short, although it was initially fun, it eventually became detrimental to my mental health. By the time 2017 came, I’d decided to quit Google Plus for three reasons:-

  1. My board exams were going on. I also needed to focus on finding my college. My offensive behavior had become a liability because it could affect my college admission.
  2. I became disillusioned with the edgy culture I once associated. It only destroyed my relationship with my online friends. Most friends I’ve known on the site have either left or used the site less frequently. Probably the worst-case scenario was people had cut ties with me. Eventually, my family got involved, so I had to quit.
  3. Somehow I knew Google was keeping private information. A Reuters report states that Google could face a lawsuit worth $5 billion for tracking people without consent[9].

It was a difficult decision to leave Google Plus. At the same time, I knew it was not worth ruining my life. I moved on after the painful endeavor. Unfortunately, another platform Facebook did not like my edgy behavior. They removed one of my Filthy Frank posts a few months ago. It might be offensive, but it was a post made in 2016. As much as I was angry, I couldn’t do anything against a company that dominates half the internet.

Privacy Issues with Social Media Platforms

  • Twitter- Twitter has 397 million users on its platform. It is not much compared to the giants like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc[10]. Despite lacking numbers, it is probably the loudest of all social media platforms, albeit for the wrong reasons. Twitter, in my opinion, is the last place to have a civil conversation. The reason is that conversation becomes toxic within a few minutes[11].

Any controversial point, out-of-context joke, or anything against the status quo will spark a civil war on Twitter. The wave of cancel culture has made people invasive over someone’s privacy. Twitter had to bring new privacy policies to tackle such activities. Sadly, cancel culture did a lot of damage. A person making a joke about a K-pop band can get their IP address hacked by an idol-worshipping, obsessive fan, which could be very dangerous[12].

  • Facebook- Facebook (Now Metaverse), at this point, has become the Infinite Tsukuyomi of social media platforms. In other words, it is enslaving people under the guise of technological advances. They’re now making advances in Virtual Reality technology. People, however, are skeptical of the platform’s questionable practices in collecting private data. The Cambridge-Analytica scandal is probably the devastating blow Facebook faced. Astonishingly, a platform that was once connecting college students is now responsible for data mining 50 million users. Facebook then sells the data to advertisers for political reasons[13][14].

Whatsapp (also owned by Metaverse) came under hot water last year. Their policy of sharing their data to Facebook created outrage amongst the users. The result of this was massive, with many people uninstalling Whatsapp and downloading its competitor apps like Signal. Despite Whatsapp clearing the misconception, it highlights the shadiness of Facebook[15][16].

When we bring the Indian context, I can remember the Jasleen Kaur Case. A woman who made allegations of sexual harassment on a Facebook post caused sensationalization and media trials. The man in question, Sabarjit Singh, lost his job several times, which caused personal and mental health problems thanks to the media’s incompetence in hearing his story. The court acquitted him because the person accusing the latter never attended the court proceedings, thus damaging the Facebook post’s credibility. One Facebook post decimated someone’s life and privacy because the media and the mob have a warped sense of justice[17].

  • Tik Tok- Tik Tok, as of now, is the most popular app in the world. It overcame other social media titans like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc. A short-term video app that became appealing to young audiences was a reason[18]. Despite the achievement, it is the most polarizing social media app for several reasons:
  • Other than producing cringe content, Tik Tok has become an attractive app for child predators who prey on the young and impressionable audiences, in other words, kids. The app’s lack of safety and moderation policy has led to the increase of the former group[19].
  • The elephant in the room is probably is the app selling user data to China. India banned the app permanently in the aftermath of the Indo-Chinese soldier clash. Many US governmental agencies like the Pentagon banned the use of Tik Tok in their offices. While Facebook sends user data to the advertisers, Tik Tok sells their data to the governmental echelons in Beijing[20][21][22]
  • Other Privacy Issues-
  • Social Credit System in China- Recently the Chinese government decided to implement a system where a person would be rated based on their social behavior. According to the Chinese government, they want to root out the bad actors in society. However, the critics say otherwise. They believe that using the Social Credit System would mean constant surveillance of Chinese citizens, thus taking away their privacy.
  • The Ban of Donald Trump on every Social Media Platform- At the height of the Capitol Building Riots, many social media platforms have banned former US President Donald Trump. His controversial statements were enough for the social media companies to draw the line. Regardless of whatever perspective anyone has on the president, I think it sets a dangerous precedent[23]. Keep in mind that these are also the same companies that could ban small businesses, journalists, and commentators from saying something against the status quo[24].
  • Pegasus Scandal- The high-profile scandal of 2021 was the Pegasus Scandal. It is spyware that can remain hidden on social media platforms. The purpose is to surveil journalists, activists, and even politicians. Pegasus can hack emails, contacts, galleries, GPS data, etc. Many critics criticized it for using social media to get private information about the mentioned groups[25].

Remedies for Right to privacy

There are several remedies if someone infringes the privacy of the person. Article 32, for starters, allows a person to file a writ to the Supreme Court should their fundamental rights be violated[26]. IPC’s Section 354C and 228a protect the victim from voyeurism and revealing names.

  1. For the former, a person gets three years imprisonment for taking photos of women without consent. If the same thing happens again, then seven years imprisonment.
  2. In the latter’s case, the imprisonment will be two years if the person in question reveals the victim’s identity[27].

There are sections of the IT Act used in their arsenal. These sections may aid in the protection of personal information. Section 67B, for example, protects children from child pornography. A person who violates this clause sentence is five years in prison. They will also be fine ten lakh rupees. Electronic voyeurism is punishable by three years of jail time under Section 66E. They must either pay a fine of two lakh rupees or do both. Finally, provisions 66C and 66D guard against identity theft. Three years in prison will be the penalty for this. The fine is similar to that imposed for electronic voyeurism. Finally, transmitting offensive texts will result in a three-year prison sentence in addition to a fine[28].

Conclusion

The way things are going right now highlights the current state of social media platforms. Even sites like Tor are open for snuff films, animal cruelty, and child porn[29]. We are familiar with Prince Harry and Megan’s interview with Oprah. They talked about the lack of privacy in the British Royal Family. Regardless of different arguments about the cousin, we can agree that the British Royal Family doesn’t get enough privacy. The Sushant Case was another example. The media and social media not only made Rhea Chakraborty a scapegoat, but they disrupted her privacy and family with their warped sense of justice[30].

We doubt we’ll see another Edward Snowden or Julian Assange as long as social media platforms continue to violate privacy and silence criticism. It’ll only be a matter of time before corporate Big Brother emerges. Our smartphones will serve as a telescreen from which the power-hungry Silicon Valley and the Chinese Social Credit System will monitor our every move. It’s past time for us to hold these platforms accountable. Otherwise, our personal space will be a thing of the past.


[1] Nineteen Eighty-Four – Wikipedia [Internet]. En.wikipedia.org. 2022,  Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four [cited 18 January 2022].

[2] The Issue Of Personal Privacy In Orwell’s 1984 And Today: [Essay Example], 723 words [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-issue-of-personal-privacy-in-orwells-1984-and-today/ ,[cited 18 January 2022]

[3] Anusha Mishra,  Different aspects of Right to Privacy under Article 21 – iPleaders [Internet]. iPleaders. 2022  Available from: https://blog.ipleaders.in/different-aspects-of-right-to-privacy-under-article-21/#Government_steps_to_protect_privacy, [cited 18 January 2022].

[4] United Nations Recognition of Privacy | Privacy International [Internet]. Privacyinternational.org. 2022 Available from: https://privacyinternational.org/impact/united-nations-recognition-privacy [cited 18 January 2022].

[5] What is the Patriot Act? | The impact it has on your privacy [Internet]. ProPrivacy.com. 2022, Available from: https://proprivacy.com/guides/what-is-the-partiot-act [cited 18 January 2022].

[6] The Freedom Of Speech And The Privacy Right In The Press And The Media: When Should The Journalists’ Rights For The Freedom Of Expression Be Restricted? | JudicateMe. 2022  Available from: https://judicateme.com/the-freedom-of-speech-and-the-privacy-right-in-the-press-and-the-media-when-should-the-journalists-rights-for-the-freedom-of-expression-be-restricted/ [cited 18 January 2022].

[7] Anish Bachchan, Opinion: In This Social Media Tug Of War, We’re Turning A Blind Eye To Reality [Internet]. Youth Ki Awaaz. 2022 Available from: https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2021/02/social-media-tug-of-war-outrage-mob-and-farmers/ [cited 18 January 2022].

[8] Anish Bala, Life After Edgelord [Internet]. Live Wire. 2022  Available from: https://livewire.thewire.in/personal/life-after-edgelord/ [cited 18 January 2022].

[9] Jonathan Stempel  Google faces $5 billion lawsuit in U.S. for tracking ‘private’ internet use [Internet]. Reuters. 2020 Available from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-alphabet-google-privacy-lawsuit-idUSKBN23933H [cited 18 January 2022].

[10] How Many People Use Social Media in 2022? (65+ Statistics) [Internet]. Backlinko. 2022  Available from: https://backlinko.com/social-media-users [cited 18 January 2022].

[11] Glink. The Golden Age of the Internet Is Over [Internet]. Youtube.com. 2019 Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OU6CuSMzNus&t=1007s [cited 18 January 2022].

[12] Twitter’s Announces New Privacy Features To Fight Cancel Culture – Right Lane Daily [Internet]. Rightlanedaily.com. 2021, Available from: https://rightlanedaily.com/2021/09/03/twitters-announces-new-privacy-features-to-fight-cancel-culture/ [cited 18 January 2022].

[13] Facebook data leak scandal won’t deter advertisers unless two things happen, industry insiders say [Internet]. CNBC. 2018 Available from: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/22/facebook-cambridge-analytica-scandal-wont-deter-advertisers.html [cited 18 January 2022].

[14] Here’s everything you need to know about the Cambridge Analytica scandal [Internet]. CNBC. 2018. Available from: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/21/facebook-cambridge-analytica-scandal-everything-you-need-to-know.html [cited 18 January 2022]

[15] The Print. 2021. WhatsApp has always shared data with Facebook, but this is why its latest update is different. [online] Available at: https://theprint.in/tech/whatsapp-has-always-shared-data-with-facebook-but-this-is-why-its-latest-update-is-different/581156/  [Accessed 18 January 2022].

[16] Stephen McNeice. WhatsApp to Signal: Why so many people are moving away from the Facebook-owned app | Newstalk [Internet]. Newstalk. 2021 Available from: https://www.newstalk.com/news/heres-why-so-many-people-are-moving-from-whatsapp-to-signal-1136636 [cited 18 January 2022].

[17] Anish Bachchan. Opinion: Pseudo Culture Is Harming The Internet And India [Internet]. Youth Ki Awaaz. 2021,  Available from: https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2021/05/the-pseudo-culture-is-harming-the-internet-and-india/ [cited 18 January 2022].

[18] TikTok is now the most downloaded app worldwide [Internet]. TechRadar. 2022,  Available from: https://www.techradar.com/news/tiktok-is-now-the-most-downloaded-app-worldwide [cited 18 January 2022].

[19] Why TikTok Has Become a Magnet For Child Predators [Internet]. Fight the New Drug. 2022  Available from: https://fightthenewdrug.org/why-tiktok-has-become-a-magnet-for-child-predators/ [cited 18 January 2022].

[20] TikTok sent US user data to China, lawsuit claims [Internet]. BBC News. 2022  Available from: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-50640110 [cited 18 January 2022].

[21] Why has TikTok been banned in India? – CBBC Newsround [Internet]. Bbc.co.uk. 2020  Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/53266068 [cited 18 January 2022].

[22] Moon. TikTok Is Worse Than You Thought [Internet]. Youtube.com. 2021 Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7STD2ESmWg [cited 18 January 2022].

[23] Donald Trump being banned from social media is a dangerous distraction | Matt Stoller and Sarah Miller [Internet]. the Guardian. 2021  Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/11/trump-twitter-ban-capitol-attack-facebook-youtube-google [cited 18 January 2022].

[24] Moon. Metaverse: The Most Evil Business in the World [Internet]. Youtube.com. 2022  Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvJ2uYN8qtg&t=773s [cited 18 January 2022].

[25] Pegasus scandal: Are we all becoming unknowing spies? [Internet]. BBC News. 2021 Available from: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-57910355 [cited 18 January 2022].

[26] Anish Bachchan. Attitudes Towards The LGBTQIA+ Community Have Changed Over The Decades, Is It Enough? [Internet]. Youth Ki Awaaz. 2020  Available from: https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2020/12/issues-faced-by-the-lgbtqia-online/ [cited 18 January 2022].

[27] Anish Bargad. Online Harassment and the rise of Social Media Trial and Online Witch Hunt [Internet]. Legalserviceindia.com. 2020 Available from: https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-4082-online-harassment-and-the-rise-of-social-media-trial-and-online-witch-hunt.html [cited 18 January 2022].

[28] Privacy and the Information Technology Act — Do we have the Safeguards for Electronic Privacy? — The Centre for Internet and Society [Internet]. Cis-india.org. Available from: https://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/privacy/safeguards-for-electronic-privacy [cited 18 January 2022].

[29] 15. Lemmino. The Dark Side of the Web [Internet]. Youtube.com. 2022 Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUP0tx7Ib2w [cited 18 January 2022].

[30] The Freedom Of Speech And The Privacy Right In The Press And The Media: When Should The Journalists’ Rights For The Freedom Of Expression Be Restricted? | JudicateMe. 2022  Available from: https://judicateme.com/the-freedom-of-speech-and-the-privacy-right-in-the-press-and-the-media-when-should-the-journalists-rights-for-the-freedom-of-expression-be-restricted/ [cited 18 January 2022].

Author: Anish Bachchan, Amity Law School, Noida

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India

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