Social media can be used by a person just like a gun in his hand, observed the Supreme Court on Friday as it found favour with an order asking a Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh to stay away from social media for at least 18 months.
The top court has decided to formulate guidelines on use of social media in criminal cases, especially in matters of bail.
"What is wrong with an order asking you not to use social media? If a court can order an accused to stay away from a gun, it can similarly ask you to stay away from social media," said Chief Justice of India SA Bobde.
The court was hearing an appeal by Congress politician Sachin Choudhary who faces a criminal case for holding a press conference in breach of the lockdown rules to criticise the central and UP governments.
The politician from Amroha also used social media to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for allegedly mishandling the coronavirus epidemic.
Choudhary was arrested on April 11 under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, the Disaster Management Act, and Information Technology Act for flouting lockdown norms, for trying to create enmity, and other offences.
By an order on May 20, the Allahabad High Court gave bail to Choudhary on the condition that he cannot use social media till the trial ends.
When he pleaded for a modification of this condition, the High Court said Choudhary cannot use social media for 18 months or till the completion of the trial, whichever is earlier.
Arguing against this order, senior advocate Salman Khurshid submitted in the Supreme Court that such a condition could not have been included in the bail order. He contended this was a curb on free speech.
But the bench was not impressed.
"We don't see any problem with this order. If offences alleged against you are also about how you used the social media, why cannot a restraint be issued?" it asked Khurshid.
The bench said it has seen how social media can be used to create problems, and decided to examine the matter in detail.
It rejected Choudhary's interim plea for lifting the prohibition. At the same time, the bench told Khurshid that the top court would examine this issue in detail for the purposes of passing appropriate guidelines.
"We are inclined to entertain your petition but we will issue notices so that we can lay down proper guidelines on the matter of social media. We will pass orders on his after hearing all parties," the bench said. It issued a notice to the Uttar Pradesh government and has fixed the matter for August 28.