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Manish Sawankar asked: How internet-based social media could be a threat to security, and what can be done about it?

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  • Cherian Samuel replies: Internet based social media is per se not a threat to security. It follows in a long line of technological innovations that have enhanced human interaction, enabling both the conveying of information, news and opinion at a rapid pace, as well as widening and deepening the democratic discourse. Like any other advancement in technology, its use comes with challenges, making it a double edged sword, in this case, for those involved with safeguarding public security. They are concerned by its potential for disrupting public order, either involuntarily through the unchecked spread of rumours, or deliberately through the propagation of misinformation with the intent of creating enmity between groups. A combination of the two was witnessed recently and has led to calls for regulating social media. However, the nature of the medium is such that it has raised valid questions as to whether such regulation is possible without infringing on the fundamental rights of the citizen relating to freedom of speech and privacy.

    Even as that debates continues, there are many other steps that the government can take to get in front of the problem. In the first instance, the authorities can use the same medium to provide correct information and nip rumours in the bud. Existing technologies and laws provide sufficient leeway to the authorities to effectively monitor internet traffic, including social media, in real-time, but are under-utilised for a variety of reasons, largely to do with coordination. In fact, along the matrix of cyber security challenges, social media pales in comparison to other challenges, such as securing critical infrastructure and countering cyber espionage, which are much more pressing and can have greater negative consequences.