Move against parody accounts a ‘bid to stifle freedom of expression’

Published On: January 23, 2019 08:05 AM NPT

KATHMANDU, Jan 23: The government’s move to close parody accounts on social media purportedly for maintaining social harmony has drawn flak as not only posing a threat to freedom of expression but also violating the established practice with such platforms elsewhere in the world.

Arguing that a Criminal Code is already in place to penalize those involved in libel or defamation, posing threats to national security or inciting violence through their posts, freedom of expression experts termed the government’s move an attempt to place the social media accounts of all citizens under surveillance, thus stifling freedom of expression. 

Freedom of expression expert Taranath Dahal said the move is a planned attempt to bring the entire netizenry of the country under the surveillance of security agencies in the name of maintaining social harmony. “There are laws already in place such as the Criminal Code to punish those going against the norms of social media. The move by the government directing the authorities to close parody accounts is against the established practice elsewhere in the world and is aimed at stifling freedom of expression,” said Dahal. 

Twitter, for instance, allows its users to open parody accounts, provided they meet the conditions stipulated in its policy. These conditions include clearly indicating in bio that the user is not affiliated with the subject of the account by, for example, incorporating a word such as “parody”, “fake” or “commentary”, in a way that would be understood by the intended audience. And the account name should not be the exact name as the subject of the account. 

Twitter policy also considers users solely responsible for the content they publish and consider them often to be in the best position to resolve disputes among themselves.

A letter sent by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to the Home Ministry on January 2 asked the latter to identify persons opening fake accounts including those opening parody accounts and take necessary action to avoid possible adverse effects they could have on social harmony. The secretary-level decision to direct the Home Ministry to take action against such accounts was taken on the ground that failure to do so on time could lead to an unimaginable situation in the country.

Experts, however, also question how government authorities will determine whether some posts on social media disturb social harmony and how they will access social media accounts of each social media user. “While this is likely a breach of privacy-- privacy being a constitutionally guaranteed right--, it is set to subject everyone to psychological terror. The ultimate objective of the move seems to be to stifle critical opinion, restricting the freedom of expression of individual citizens,” Dahal further said.

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