DEFAMATION ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Updated: Oct 25

By-Natasha Nazmi

INTRODUCTION

Though Article 19 (1) (a) provides citizens right to freedom of speech and expression but it has reasonable restriction, people take advantage of social medium to post anything that can cause harm to the reputation of a person. And social media is that platform that can reach broad audience within a nanosecond. Defamation through internet has become a matter of concern and one can be liable under the law of defamation.

WHAT IS DEFAMATION?

As per Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), defamation is whoever by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person is said to defame that person


Two types of defamation are there:

A. Libel: A defamatory statement published in a written form.

B. Slander: A defamatory statement made in a verbal form.

WHAT IS CYBER DEFAMATION?

Cyber defamation can also be called as Internet defamation. It refers to the defamation of a person by untrue statements through the use of computer or internet that can affect the reputation of that individual. Cyber Defamation is a civil as well as a criminal proceeding against the accused. Cyber Defamation is committed through various ways by social networking sites, email, forum sites etc.

IS DEFAMATION A CRIME?

In India, defamation is both a criminal and civil offence.

Under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, a person guilty of criminal defamation can be sent to jail for 2 years.

WHAT CAN A PERSON DO IF HE IS BEING DEFAMED ON INTERNET?

A plaintiff can file a lawsuit in the respective state court. A person can also file a complaint in the Cyber Crime Investigation Cell at the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal. Since Cyber Defamation falls under Libel therefore one who makes any false accusation can be sued.


A person can also report to the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and ask them to pay the damages. Therefore, it depends entirely on the complainant the nature of complain he files and accordingly the case would be looked upon and in case the plaintiff files a false accusation, the defendant has the right to sue him on the ground of defaming his personal reputation.

LEGAL PROVISIONS FOR CYBER DEFAMATION

In India, a person can be made liable for defamation both under civil and criminal law. There are various provisions relating to online defamation depending on the nature of loss:


Indian Penal Code, 1860

Section 499 of Indian Penal Code says that “Whoever by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs and visual representations makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm the reputation of such person is said, except in the cases hereinafter excepted to defame that person.”


Section 500 of IPC, Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person. It provides for punishment wherein “any person held liable under section 499 will be punishable with imprisonment of two years or fine or both.”

Section 469 deals with forgery. If anyone creates a false document or fake account by which it harms the reputation of a person. The punishment of this offence can extend up to 3 years and liable to fine.


Section 503 of IPC deals with criminal intimidation by the use of electronic devices to damage one’s reputation in society. It says that-

Whoever, threatens another with any injury to his person, reputation or property, or to the person or reputation of any one in whom is interested, with intent to cause alarm to that person, or to cause that person to do any act which he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do any act which that person is legally entitled to do, as the means of avoiding the execution of such threats, commits criminal intimidation.


Section 506 of IPC deals with punishment for criminal intimidation (section 503) of IPC. This section says that- whoever commits the offence of criminal intimidation shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.


Section 124A of IPC deals with the sedition, in this when anyone ridicules a Minister or Government official in cyberspace or in any other place then this offence come under this section. This section says that-

Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which may be added, or with fine.

Information Technology Act, 2000

Section 66A, Information Technology Act,2000 – This law has been struck down by Supreme Court in the year 2015. The section defined punishment for sending ‘offensive’ messages through a computer, mobile or tablet. Since the government did not clarify the word ‘offensive’. The government started using it as a tool to repress freedom of speech. In 2015, the whole section was quashed by the Supreme Court.

If a person has been defamed in cyberspace, he can make a complaint to the cyber crime investigation cell. It is a unit of the Crime Investigation Department.

3. Section 79, Information Technology Act provides a safe harbor to intermediaries against any act of defamation. However, it is limited to certain condition.

SOME CASE LAWS ON CYBERSPACE DEFAMATION:

SMC PNEUMATICS INDIA PVT. LTD. V. JOGESH KWATRAL

The first ever cyber defamation case was filed in India in 2001. In this case, the defendant Jogesh Kwartal, an employee of the plaintiff’s company started sending defamatory emails to his employers and different subsidiaries of the company all over the world. The plaintiff thereafter filed a suit for permanent injunction restraining the defendant from posting such defamatory remarks. The Delhi High Court allowed an ex-parte and interim injunction observing that a prima facie case was made out by the plaintiff and restrained the defendant from posting such remarks.


RAJIV DINESH GADKARI THROUGH P.A. DEPAMALA GADKARI VS SMT. NILANGI RAJIV GADKARI

In this case, after she received a divorce letter from her husband, she filed a complaint suit against her husband for continuously harassing her by uploading vulgar photos and defaming her. Later, she claimed maintenance of Rs. 75,000 per month.

SWAMI RAMDEV & ANR. VS FACEBOOK, INC. & ORS.,23 OCT,2019

The Delhi High Court has ordered Social media like Facebook, Twitter and Google to immediately remove “on a global basis” content allegedly defamatory to Baba Ramdev. The High Court restricted the author and publisher of the book “Godman to Tycoon” on Ramdev from publishing that were offending to Ramdev and ordered to delete the portion that were offensive.

CONCLUSION

In today’s social media world, at just one click we can reach to a vast number of people. It is the easiest and commonest way to share our thoughts with the world. Sometimes, this easiest virtual accessibility can pose a great threat to the society. Some people can misuse these social networking sites to defame one’s reputation. India is still lagging behind in IT and Cyber sectors. Though some laws are amended for the crimes like hacking, voyeurism, cyber terrorism, identity theft etc still it’s not sufficient to deal with the increasing numbers. It needs to be more efficient in the near future. More awareness programs should be done by the government to enlighten the people about the crimes and the precautions related to it. There is also a need to reform laws relating to cyber crimes.



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