NIFT's Social Media Policy, 2020 violates the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression

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tl;dr

We came across multiple articles which reported that the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) has instituted a Social Media Policy which bans students from posting any content on social media which may “malign” the institute. As a result, we wrote to the Director General of NIFT as well as the Ministry of Textiles asking them to recall the policy which hampers the right to freedom of speech and expression of the students.

The Social Media Policy, 2020

According to reports, NIFT has recently implemented a “NIFT Social Media Policy, 2020” which has two distinct parts, with the first being specific guidance and the latter a list of bulleted, “online etiquette”.  We have two distinct concerns with this policy:

A. The over-reliance and repeated emphasis given to existing criminal laws in Point no. 7 and 8  which does not serve as necessary caution but may well be perceived as a threat of prosecution. This is especially given that the practiced reality of such laws is often arbitrary - where the process itself is the punishment.

B. Our more specific concern arises from Point no. 2 of the said policy that states, “[a]ny content maligning NIFT, its policies and employees will be viewed adversely inviting disciplinary action and inter alia, penalties, debarment from sitting the examination, campus placements etc.” We submit this condition requires removal as it violates the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), due to the following reasons:

  1. Vagueness in the phrasing, particularly the use of the undefined term,       “maligning”, makes this restriction open to being applied arbitrarily.
  2. There is also the issue of overbreadth as such a condition in the official policy of the institute curbs valid dissent and dissatisfaction that a student or a parent may have with the institution. Overbreadth is a concept of free speech jurisprudence/legal theory which means that the term in question is so wide and vague that it is difficult to define or limit its scope.
  3. Additionally, the imposition of disciplinary action and penalties such as disbarment on those who violate the policy is disproportionate when no standards have been prescribed to distinguish how such penalties will be evaluated.

Free Speech - Always in Vogue

Students today are digital natives. They use social media as a form of expression to not only engage with peers but also to vent their frustrations and raise awareness and concerns on relevant issues. We urge you to be mindful especially of the ongoing pandemic which has had an adverse effect on the students across the country. Students have been using social media to raise valid concerns pertaining to online classes and fee structures. In such a situation, this policy can be seen as a way in which the institute is trying to stifle the expression of concerns.

Thus, we recommended that the social media policy be recalled and a new version should be circulated as a draft online for comment and feedback from the student body.

Important Documents

  1. Representation to Director General of the National Institute of Fashion Technology and Ministry of Textiles for the recall of NIFT's Social Media Ban Policy dated August 14, 2020 (link)
  2. NIFT’s Social Media Policy, 2020 (link)