Disha Ravi was arrested last week for certain actions on social media platforms which caught the hostile attention of the Delhi Police. This latest hit by the Delhi Police may well change the direction for Twitter now. It will certainly change the way governments and particularly enforcement and surveillance organisations around the world look at Twitter, and it may change the direction for the whole gamut of social media as such.
What happened last week exposes how vulnerable any targeted individual, society, community or country can be to the venom spreading on the net. Catfish (duplicate persona used on the net) gaslighting, and trolling are other terms from social media that have found their way into our daily lexicon and this is not without a reason.
While governments around the world have been trying tooth and nail to impose at least some semblance of control on Facebook, Twitter and Google and the unrestrained manner in which these platforms have been feeding information anywhere and everywhere without any ostensible concern on how it will be used or misused, the Five Eyes (FVEY) nations namely the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have been noticeably silent on this misuse but very vociferous on any restrictions being placed anywhere on the internet. At best they have been holding huge TV events where prominent people question the social media moghuls for endless hours before coming out with new reasons why nothing can be done. This FVEY name comes from the digital intelligence sharing agreement in place between them, the existence of which was exposed when former US President Donald J Trump reportedly got indiscreet with the Russian Premier Vladimir Putin about a European covert operation in the Middle East. Social media have meanwhile claimed helplessness to intervene due to their respect for the freedom of expression in social media.
With global bodies like Médecins Sans Frontières, (sometimes rendered in English as Doctors Without Borders), and Reporters Without Borders, slowly having a bigger and bigger transnational role to play, their misuse (or parallel use) for achieving other objectives has always been a real possibility.
With the identification of Disha Ravi and her alleged involvement in the “toolkit” being pushed by Greta Thunberg for inflaming the Farmer discontent in India, the Delhi Police might well have found the proverbial “pot of gold” that exists at the end of any rainbow. The support of Greta Thunberg to the agitation is another matter, and while she is certainly free to have her own opinion, her use of Twitter for pushing the “toolkit” may well open up Pandora’s box for nations that have been facing a plethora of "Insurrections without borders”. Whether it is the anti-military riots in Myanmar, the Navalny protests in Russia or the anti-China protests in Taiwan, all share the common feature of extreme consistency in action despite a rudderless front. Without any visible leadership, these ‘spontaneous uprisings’ are repeatedly hitting hard and precise as never before. This strategy backfired in the Jan 6 insurrection in Washington DC, where the result of using social media for igniting a whole population at the same time became painfully evident.
Sadly, Disha Ravi's moral and legal culpability cannot avoid very thorough scrutiny by authorities in the days to come. Be that as it may, this may well be a turning point for the future of social media. These methods of 'proxy warfare' place agent provocateurs overseas and beyond the reach of the local law, and impressionable Indians young and old would get caught because of their perception of nationalistic fervour. It is not entirely perchance that the Delhi Police eventually picked up the scent from where Disha Ravi panicked and got back to Greta Thunberg asking her to "take back at once" the just-released "Toolkit” bearing her name.
The use by Greta Thunberg (who incidentally turned 18 just this January) of Twitter for inciting people against legally established authority goes against the internationally accepted norm that children are normally kept out of war (or such power play between nations). Greta’s Environment platform has also enjoyed a free ride so far since it had not overtly identified itself with transnational confrontationist activities anywhere until now. Henceforth, however, when such protests erupt anywhere, one can expect that Law Enforcement in that country will know where to look for the 'smoking gun'.
It is not surprising that the Australian parliament (despite being a part of the 5 Eyes setup) has added “Account takeover Warrants” into Lawful access to telecommunications Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020, amending their Crimes Act 1914 to allow (Australian) Law Enforcement to take control of a suspect online account and deprive the account holder of access to that account for such reasons.
This may well see the dawn of a new era where social media is forced to find ways to prevent misuse of the platform if it is not to be eventually shut down or cut-off just because it is not prepared to be tempered. China, for one, has established and maintained independent social media platforms, its own email and social messaging platforms, and is today free from the proxy warfare rampant in almost every other country. Hopefully, this may not spread.
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