Some people assume that they can post any message or photo or comment on the internet because the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. It’s necessary to point out that freedom of expression does not give anyone the right to express himself in any way he chooses.

SURESH RAMPHUL

The right to have an opinion and to express it is indeed sacrosanct but it also implies a duty not to make an abuse of that right. Freedom of expression comes along with a high sense of responsibility and is subject to restrictions.  One cannot circulate whatever one wants.  Recently, someone posted a photo of Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth on a pornographic site.  What was the person’s intention?  What was he or she trying to prove?

Freedom of expression isn’t an unbridled licence allowing a person to exaggerate.  Common sense dictates that the content as well as the manner in which it is communicated remains within the bounds of decency.

Disparaging a person (whoever it may be), insulting or offending him or exposing him to ridicule isn’t permissible for the simple reason that the person has his rights too.  Besides, it’s cheap.  The person who posted the PM’s photo on the said site has obviously not thought deeply about the likely consequences.  This, in itself, is a clear sign of immaturity or pure impulse.  He/she must have acted on the spur of the moment without realising the damage it could be causing to the victim.

Comments or photos posted on the internet have, as a rule, to be purposeful and illuminating, not vulgar, demeaning or with the intention to hurt somebody’s reputation or image.  One may not particularly like a public figure or anyone else but it doesn’t mean that one can use the internet freely in order to make fun of him or play around with his honour.  There have been cases where lovers, after having experienced bitter moments in their relationship, have gone to the extent of posting unpleasant things about each other.  It’s a mean way of getting even.

Similarly, propagating false information about a person can cause profound distress to him.  In some cases comments made in bad faith can disturb public peace or hurt the sentiments of a whole family.  That is why it is indispensable to understand where one’s right begins and where it ends.  Comments have to be sober, poised and respectful.

There are better ways to deal with an issue than resort to character assassination in the public. One must ascertain that what one is posting on the internet is not prejudicial.  The person must ask himself in all honesty whether he is doing the right thing.  There are certain questions he needs to ask himself:  What’s the point of doing what I’m about to do?  Is this the only way of venting my disapproval or dislike of someone?  What do I gain out of it?  And if I’m arrested, what will be the result?

Self-questioning is an important step in the acquisition of maturity or in the control of anger and frustration.  It’s an eye-opening exercise that makes you realise your mistake and prevents you from committing it.

The fact that today people can express themselves easily and rapidly under anonymity on the social media may be one reason why some of them go over the top to importune or bully their victims with comments of a racist, homophobic, sexist or sexual nature.

The internet is a powerful tool with wide benefits.  It must be used intelligently and for the public good.