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Twitter: The New Supreme Court

Abstract

New age media has its many boons, but is not without its banes. This paper discusses the advantages and disadvantages it has posed in today’s time with regards to seeking justice. It takes a look at a multitude of online movements such as the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, the Arab Spring, etc. How effective are platforms such as twitter and Instagram in ensuring justice to victims as opposed to a court of law? It further investigates the issue of false accusations, and the many dangers the internet can do to one’s reputation. The media is a dangerous tool and must be used wisely otherwise it can lead to a breakdown of democratic machinery.


Background

In today’s digital age, it is nearly impossible to find someone who isn’t on social media, be it Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram or twitter. News channels have met their match with the mighty internet and its many domains. New media is a form of interactive media that takes place predominantly online. The past few years, social media has been giving a platform to just about anyone to talk about what they want, to share ideas and communicate with others.

Initially not being taken seriously, new media has given rise to a new political age of the millennium. Canadian- Indian YouTuber, Lilly Singh was appointed UNICEF’s newest global ambassador in 2017. Other YouTubers such as Liza Koshy, Ingrid Nelson, and Bethany Mota have met Barack Obama during his term as president, to discuss various issues regarding the various issues faced by the youth. Clearly new media has been recognized as a legitimate channel to share news, political views, discuss solutions and basically the perfect place to start a conversation. As far as an aid to the court, social media has been key to beginning and maintaining the intensity of newer social movements which have brought up newer questions in court leading to judgements such as that of the decriminalization of Section 377.

Recent Events and Their Problems

Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit seller from Tunisia, set himself on fire because of the repressive regime1. His death sparked a revolution which began the Arab spring. A similar incident had taken place the previous year, a man selling doughnuts set himself on fire, fed up of the constant police interference. Yet, his death went by pretty much unnoticed. The difference between the two deaths was that news of Bouazizi’s death

was circulated on Facebook and other forms of media. One can see the powerful impact the internet has in initiating a protest that ultimately did bring about a change, thereby delivering justice in some form.

Another example from the Arab Spring is graffiti artist, Mohamed Fahmy, who is known by his pseudonym, Ganzeer, meaning ‘bicycle chain’. He used less than conventional forms of media and expression to spread his message and encourage the citizens of Egypt to stand up against the government. He created graffiti art that essentially echoed the thoughts of the people at that time in the revolution, along with distributing pamphlets that informed people how to organize into groups. His methods were creative in an attempt to escape censorship from the state.

This brings up an interesting point about ‘new media’, it is almost void of any interference as such from the government, total freedom of speech online and it can be anonymous. No censorship on new media, especially by the state, is helpful in places especially where the government is repressive and censors most things. It aids social movements in a more meaningful way since it is coming directly from the people who are being affected, as opposed to a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats who have inherently political motives, while people’s wants and demands are given only secondary priority. Perhaps the reason why the government is sometimes so distrustful of social media platforms and is quick to dismiss them, is because they have little to no control over what is being said about state policies, politicians and other aspects of their rule. At the same time, such new and innovative forms of politicized social movements resonate with the public differently, it is simpler for them to understand and also shows them a different perspective. Similarly, Maya Rao and her ‘Walk’ along with her ‘Non Stop Feel Good Show’, interpretive dances, defying the boundaries of masculinity and femininity, also redefines the forms of social activism and new media.

Coming to the newly popular #MeToo social movement, first gaining popularity with the allegations made against big-time Hollywood director, Harvey Weinstein2. Countless women (and men) have since then broken their silence and come out with their stories of sexual harassment. This has, in turn, rallied millions of Twitter users to support these victims, increasing emphasis on the importance of consent. This movement has given people the courage to share their stories and even finally file a case against their perpetrators. It does not allow for the normalization of sexual harassment and rape. Of course, one may think that simply tweeting about their story is no replacement for justice in a court of law, but the proof is in the pudding. This movement has taken down various big names in Hollywood, Bollywood, Washington, etc., which would otherwise be difficult since public figures are usually able to bribe their way out of their problems.

A strong online movement and social activism also does influence the court’s decision and changes how judges view a case. Take for example, the Nirbhaya rape case in 2012 in Delhi. Protestors took to the streets as the movement gained more traction online. Some may argue that the entire ordeal was reduced to nothing but a hashtag, but the government was under pressure to deliver the death sentence to the perpetrators and flew Jyothi to Singapore but who unfortunately succumbed to her injuries on the way. It is undeniable that the government in a democratic country may not always listen to the people as it should, but if the community does come together as a nation, it puts the courts and the state in a tough spot and under pressure to take heed of their demands.

On the other hand, arbitrarily sharing personal stories online using the #MeToo results in the accused being unable to defend themselves as they are subject to threats, online hate and public shaming. Very often, there is no legal action taken against the accused, the accusers have simply jumped on the bandwagon of this movement, leaving it up to the internet users to take matters into their own hands. It is also extremely difficult to verify these claims without taking it to an actual court. It is also used as a publicity stunt which begs the question that how real is this? Or is this simply something trendy with no deeper meaning to the people taking part in it? Almost immediately after the onset of the #MeToo movement, there were people trolling it, creating memes and parodies. It still continues to be treated as a joke in various circumstances, but the same goes for so many other movements. This raises another set of questions, how seriously are these movements taken? Do the people who partake in them really care about the cause and interested in bringing structural changes to society? It is no longer sex that sells on the internet, it is social activism that gains likes and retweets these days. Could this just be a way for people to gain more followers and traction on their pages?

A gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14th 20183. He killed 17 students and faculty members, as well as injured 17 others. These types of school shootings are not rare in the United States due to their lack of gun control laws. This particular school shooting was the straw that broke the camel’s back, breaking a decades old stalemate pertaining to the debate surrounding the matter of gun control. The Parkland students have pressured Donald Trump to propose tougher background checks on gun buyers as well as to consider gun control measures. Their activism has inspired marches, protests and school walkouts such as ‘March for our lives’ all over the States. The difference between this school shooting and that of that of The Columbine High School shooting is the absence of the social media apps back then. The Parkland students have used new media to their advantage to get other people and schools involved, forcing the NRA and politicians to sit up and take notice of them and their demands. These students are too young to vote and take part in actual politics, so they have found this new outlet to make their voices heard. This changes the perspective a lot of adults have on teens, they’re not just lazy high schoolers who only worry about themselves, they’re here as the activist generation. Something as delicate as this needs to be handled by the victims i.e. the students themselves.

Unfortunately, despite all this, the legislators don’t seem to budge on this issue. The second amendment is the right to bear arms but even with changing times there doesn’t seem to be any changes implemented to this. Why has gun control been such a difficult issue for the country to solve? This is because the middle ground can’t be reached, both sides are too selfish in what they want. They need to be able to somehow voice their opinions without keeping the other out of the conversation. There are a small amount of people acting like they’re the majority of the people trying to run something because of greed and money. They may or may not care about people getting killed, but they do care about the almighty dollar.

When a school shooting happens, people feel badly about it, and a week later they have forgotten all about it. There is a fear of desensitization, people are so used to hearing and reading about various mass shootings online, and unless there are a large number of casualties, they don’t really remember it for long. Also, the victims, the ones who are directly affected, are students who don’t have the resources to make a difference on their own. Therefore, does it really matter if you have a strong online presence as long as long as there are multi-million- dollar corporations funding the political parties to fulfill their own agendas.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement is also a wonderful example of solidarity. It all started in 2013 with a hashtag after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African-American. This was followed by street demonstrations, soon becoming nationally recognized, this movement is now an international phenomenon. The leaders of this movement have realized that effective change does not come from staging protests and entering the field of mainstream politics, because police brutality and abuse of power is still very much prevalent in the States and everywhere else in the world. Racism is supposedly a thing of the past, and people are no longer ‘separate but equal’, yet how can one explain the discrimination that the non-white community faces in a country that encourages ‘multiculturalism’ and whose very slogan is ‘The land of the free’? Legal equality seemingly is not equal to actual equality in day-to-day life. The court may deliver a judgement, but justice is served only when the people change. Research by Jeremy Sawyer from University of New York and Anup Gampa from the University of Virginia, says that racism has declined since the Black Lives Matter movement, white citizens previous bias towards their own race has decreased4. They no longer feel as threatened by the African-American community as they did before the Black Lives Matter movement. African-Americans are taught from a very young age to be extremely proud of their origins and of who they are, which has led to the phenomena of ‘Black Pride Month’, celebrating their culture and various Black icons. Yet since the Black Lives Matter movement has begun, African-Americans no longer feel the need to only be ‘pro-black’.

Recommendations & Conclusion

Unfortunately, with the good also comes the bad, there is a fine line between productive protest and blind aggression. The internet is always looking for a reason to be infuriated as well as for a scapegoat. Internet and twitter users are sometimes not well informed about all the aspects of the situation and this is how hatred is born out of ignorance. Along with this, it is now so much easier to share photos and videos instantly, which has also increased the spread of hateful propaganda, harming certain sections of society.

Case in point, the extremist reactions of people online after the Pulwama attacks. Debates and battles ensuing online with a large number of users calling for war, most of their anger being misdirected and misguided. It is during times like these when the government officials use social media platforms such as twitter to spread their propaganda and sway the public in their favor. In a way, justifying the legal actions they are taking by enraging the masses. RSS Chief, Mohan Bhagwat tweeted about the incident “It is a cowardly act, we strongly condemn it. We expect action in response to this incident. We have tolerated a lot and are still doing so, as seen from today’s incident. They will get a reply (to the attack)”. Many such instigating messages were tweeted by public figures followed by the general public. Without understanding the politics, motives and history surrounding the issue, people are demanding war which would inevitably lead to chaos and destruction. At the end of the day, it is very easy to sit in your air-conditioned homes and tweet an angry message while the soldiers at the border are the ones who will have to act upon it. If war is what the government wants, they can go through with it with the full support of the citizens who haven’t fully comprehended the repercussions of this. In this way the government who, as previously established, struggle to censor the new media outlets, can also use it to their advantage, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’.

Social media does indeed end up changing the perspectives of even those who make decisions of cases because they are not exclusive of the public domain and they are surrounded by the gossip. No matter how much we try to dehumanize law there always is an element of humanity given the fact that the judges in court are humans and have their own personal biases. Beside that, it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the voice of the people, growing louder every day. Be it a discriminated section of society rallying against the oppression, or politicians spreading their own propaganda, influencing society.

As far as justice goes, I believe that in this time of new rise technology, new media supplements the court’s judgement.