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Think before you post

We will, we will block you! Freddie Mercury would have been appalled by that, of course, but it's a tune the Delhi High Court has just been singing, much to the annoyance of millions of Indians online. It was a warning issued to social networking behemoth Facebook India and search engine Google India: Fail to devise a mechanism to check and remove 'objectionable material' from your web pages, and we will do to you what China has done.

While this isn't an order (not yet, that is), the writing on the wall has upset many. This may be because, once upon a time, the courts were our last defence. We could turn to them for counsel, expect them to sympathise and, in general, play the role of Father Figure. What this threat has done, however, is remind us that courts can play Big Brother when they want to, monitoring every aspect of our lives the way China and Myanmar have done for decades.

Google and Facebook, for their part, point out that postings of 'obscene, objectionable and defamatory' articles and other things cannot be 'filtered' or 'monitored'. They are correct, to a certain extent. It is us, the users, who have to play the role of moderator before publishing something online. We must behave like sensible adults who have been granted freedom of expression. We must weigh our actions because, as a certain masked superhero likes to point out, 'with great power comes great responsibility.'

Is it fair to hold a platform accountable for the acts of third parties who may or may not choose to exercise discretion? That is for lawyers to decide. All that we want, as ordinary members of civil society, is a country that continues to grant us the right to speak when we want to.

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