As the use of internet has diversified, many people have started using internet more as a means of communicating their thoughts on various issues. The use of social media has brought a revolution not only in the Indian sphere but all across the world. The politicians are using these mediums to reach out to masses( NaMo, Sushma Swaraj, Smriti Irani and many others). Stars are using these as a medium to connect to their fans and well wishers (imsrk, Rishi Kapur, Anupam Kher holding the baton). Wannabe stars like KRK and Rakhi Sawant also use these mediums to do what they do. The point I am trying to make here is there is a new internet society which has come up. In this society there is no distinction on any basis, internet has provided them a platform to convey their thoughts, get involved in discussions, and review a product, a movie, a song and even a person. Though this platform has provided us with insightful and well read people, it has also provided us with goons who commit cyber defamation.
In the present blog post we shall cover the definition of cyber defamation, categories of cyber defamation and the provisions under which the person can be held liable.
What is Cyber Defamation?
Cyber defamation can be divided into two parts- Cyber and defamation.
Cyber space– When two computers are connected together so as to form a space for transmission of information.
Cyber crime-The crimes done over internet or are done through the use of computer comes under cyber crime. Online defamation is a cyber crime.
Defamation– Defamation means harming the reputation of a person in front of a third party. The various means of defamation are through words (spoken or written), signs or visible representation. The basic elements of defamation are
- Harming reputation
- In front of a third person
- Through words(spoken or written), actions or visible representation
When a person is defamed in the cyberspace, it is known as cyber defamation or online defamation.
In cyber defamation, internet or computer is used as a method of harming the reputation of the other person or lowering the reputation of a person in front of others.
In India, the liability of defamation is two folds:
- Primary writers-Person who has written the defamatory content and published it on the cyberspace.
- Service providers- The ISP or bulletin board service providers who authorised for the publication of such defamatory content.
Various mediums used
- Social Networking site
- Discussion forums
Provisions governing online defamation in India
- Section 499, Indian Penal Code
This section says that 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, except in the cases hereinafter excepted, to defame that person.
- Section 500,Indian Penal Code
This section provides for punishment. Any person held liable under section 499 will be punishable with imprisonment of two years or fine or both.
- Section 469,Indian Penal Code
This section deals with the forgery, in this if anyone creates 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 fine.
- Section 503,Indian Penal Code
The offense of criminal intimation by use of emails and other electronic means of communication for threatening or intimidating any person or his property or reputation.
- Section 66A,Information Technology Act,2000
This law has been struck down by the Supreme Court in the year 2015. This section defined punishment for sending ‘offensive’ messages through a computer, mobile or tablet. Since government did not clarify its stand on the word ‘offensive’, the government started using it as a tool to repress freedom of speech. In 2015 the Supreme Court quashed the whole section.
Where to lodge a complaint?
If a person has been defamed in a cyber space he can make a complaint to the Cyber rime investigation cell. It is a unit of Crime Investigation Department (CID).
The Cyber Crime investigation cells deal with offences related to the computer, computer network, computer resource, computer systems, computer devices and Internet. It also has power to look into other high-tech crimes.
Defamation Laws and Violation of Freedom of Speech and Expression.
Our Constitution has provided its citizens with various rights. Freedom of Speech and Expression is one such right. The citizens of India have the right to freely express their views on any matter even at a public forum. But this right comes with certain limitations. The government of India is allowed to make laws that provide ‘reasonable restriction’ on this fundamental right. Thus the laws of defamation provide a reasonable restriction as it protects the right of reputation of another person.
What forms of defamatory publications are admissible by courts in India?
As per section 65A and 65B of the Indian Evidence Act –
- Any electronic record printed on a paper or recorded or copied in optical or magnetic media shall be considered as a document and shall be admissible by court.
- Online chats are also admissible.
- Electronic mails are also admissible.
- Kalandi Charan Lenka Vs. State of Odisha – In this, the petitioner was continuously being stalked, and a fake account of her was later created and obscene messages were sent to the friends by the culprit. A morphed naked picture was also posted on the walls of the hostel where the victim stayed. The court held the culprit liable for his offence.
- Rajiv Dinesh Gadkari through P.A. Depamala Gadkari vs Smt. Nilangi Rajiv Gadkari – In this case, after receiving a divorce letter from her husband, the respondent filed a suit against the husband for continuously harassing her by uploading vulgar photographs and defaming her. The offence has already been registered and maintenance of Rs. 75,000 per month has been claimed by the wife(respondent).
Cyberspace is a wide platform which provides people with the opportunity to express their views. But should people use this opportunity to disrepute someone? There have been many instances where the people have tarnished the reputation of people through their views or abusive comments. These actions are done under the alms of freedom of speech and expression. There should be regulations posed by the service providers or the bulletin board providers. These intermediaries should have strict policies against people who post vulgar or abusive comments.
Besides this, people should be aware of their limits. They should refrain themselves from making any personal or abusive comment on a public forum. When we enter the cyberspace there is a basic etiquette everyone needs to follow and maintain sanity in the cyberspace.
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