Online Defamation

Introduction

Defamation means to destroy or damage the image or reputation of the individual. It can be done in both written and oral, it constitutes crime or tort. Some common law jurisdictions also distinguish between spoken defamation, called slander, and defamation in other media such as printed words or images, called libel.[1] Slander refers to harmful or hurtful statements in the form of speech. Offending words or material by sign language or strong gestures is also slander. Libel and slander both require publication.[2] It is essential to have a publication to claim its defamation. It must be done in front of the third party.

Online defamation refers to the publication of the offending words, statements on social media such as twitter, google, Facebook, etc. A person insulted in virtual reality is cyber-defamation. If there are posted offensive words or posters on any of the social media platforms then it is known as libel. For example: – A person posted a blog abusing the policy which is drafted for the welfare of the people.

Online defamation has become a major concern while drafting the internet or social media policy. In this article it will be focused upon the consequences of online defamation, are certain restrictions on their speech violate their freedom to speech and expression, and the implementation of the cyber-defamation laws.

What all constitute to online defamation

The Internet is one of the easiest platforms to express your views on the current issues. While expressing their views on certain issues the harm or damage is caused to the reputation of the good personality by making false statements in cyberspace. Libel is typically the form addressed with cyber defamation because the Internet essentially receives the same protections as print and published media.[3] To be constituted as defamation: –

  • Unprivileged posting of the declaration to a third party
  • If the defamatory matter is of public concern, negligence on the part of the publisher amounts to at least one
  • Possible damages to the complainant

Due to the global network and increase in technology, people use cyberspace in different ways. Offline defamation has a different impact on the individual and the online defamation has a different impact because it is the world-wide-web and the reputation of the individual is harmed globally. The third party in online defamation is the public.  It is not only harmful for the individual but the entire society is impacted because of this. On the name of freedom of speech and expression, people take advantage of the internet services. Information on the internet gets viral in seconds, hence it’s easy to spread hatred.

Legislation related to online defamation

A person is liable for defamation under both the law of crime and tort.

Under Indian Penal Code,

Section 499 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 provides for penalty 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 paper or fake account by which it destroys the status of a person. The sentence of this offense can encompass up to 3 years and fine.

Under the Information Technology Act, Section 66 A

Any person who sends, using a computer resource or a communication device

(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or

b) any information which he knows to be false, but to cause annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,

(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message to cause annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.”

Laws have been laid down for the protection of the public and punish the offender. Damages i.e. compensation is to be paid in the case of the defamation. The amount of damages granted will depend on the nature of the defamation sought and the extent of publication.[4] But it’s not possible or easy to find out the real person behind posting the offending material. This is because bloggers may be transparent or may choose to keep their names or identities nameless to protect themselves.[5] The information is available globally and in today’s century everyone uses the internet, therefore it’s difficult to maintain the record for it. Information Technology Act, 2000 has to be amended with the growth and development in the society.

Consequences of online defamation

There are a lot of consequences that the individual has to pay because of online defamation. There might be a loss of professional reputation, psychological impacts, loss of their profits, and financial loss. The person also commits suicide if he/she cannot handle the criticism of the public. This happens especially amongst the celebrities. Social media is the platform where everyone is free to speak whatever they wish. This platform is so huge that it is difficult to gather information that has performed such action. In Océane Ebem’s suicide, she live-streamed it on a social networking site called Periscope. In this stream, she talked about how she had been physically and sexually abused by her boyfriend and gave his name and means to contact him. In response to her confession, the viewers watching the live stream couldn’t care less about what she had to say and how to help. Instead, they bullied her in the comments section and said incredibly mean and hurtful things. In response, she live-streamed her suicide, and thousands of people saw it.[6] Social media has a great influence in the lives of the popular people.

The financial loss occurs when the person defames the product or services of any industry. For example: – Most of the people do online purchasing and by relying on the reviews of the particular product. If the person is purchasing the kitchen-ware from a particular online platform like the big basket, goffers, etc and somebody defames the products of this platform then people will shift their choice to different platforms and this will result in a huge financial loss to the industry.

This shows how the goodwill of the industry is also harmed, the reputation they have earned for a long time will vanish because of defamation, and people will not be able to trust their brand and work.

This also has the psychological impact that is trauma, mental illness, tension, memory loss, anxiety, and also nervousness.

Excessive use of Freedom of Speech

Article 19 (1)(a) of The Indian Constitution provides that all the citizens have freedom of speech and expression but with reasonable restrictions. The protection of the reputation of another person falls within the ambit of reasonable restriction and any comment or remark which hampers the reputation of another person (unless the statement is true) would invite liability under the law of defamation.[7] Under Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, 24th March 2015 there has been a violation of Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution and Section 66 A of the Information and Technology Act, 2000 has been struck down and it’s not saved under Article 19(2). This article cannot be absolute because there has to be a limit to every word and speech. Every speech is not appropriate and it might harm the sentiment of the other individual hence, it’s the responsibility of the lawmakers to adhere to this and in case of the violation, strict action has to be taken. The Internet has allowed us to share our views but to some extent. Not all content is appropriate for everyone.

Solution and Conclusion

An increase in technology has increased the legal cases, the urge for the cyber-cell to wake up and take strict actions. Cyber-police must be there in every area, each case must be reported and the cyber department must follow the laws strictly. Awareness programs and campaigns must be conducted to inform the youth about cybercrimes and how to deal with defamation. Cyber courts alike the other courts so that there will be a speedy process in the narration of the judgment and other courts will be able to focus on the specific cases and there will be no pile-up of the cases.

The Internet is the grave place for defamation where there is a large transmission of the information and the data. Innocent people become the victim of defamation and its high time when we need to react to this and take strict action on this.

Questions

  • What is online defamation?
  • How are social media platforms connected to online defamation?
  • What is the connection between Freedom of speech and expression and defamation?
  • What constitutes online defamation?
  • What all amendments are required in the current cyber department?

[1]  Linda L. Edwards, J. Stanley Edwards, Patricia Kirtley Wells, Tort Law for Legal Assistants, Cengage Learning, 2008, p. 390. 

[2] 50 Am. Jur.2d libel and slander 1–546

[3] Cyber and Online Defamation.” Cyber and Online Defamation – IST432_SP10_TEAM4 – Confluence, wikispaces.psu.edu/display/IST432TEAM4/Cyber, and Online Defamation.

[4] Legal Service India, Defamation in CyberSpace, http://www.legalservicesindia.com/articles/defcy.htm

[5] Subodh Asthana, Cyber Defamation in India: Laws and Challenges, iPleaders (2019), https://blog.ipleaders.in/cyber-defamation-india-issues/

[6] Dasgupta, Rana (2017-08-29). “The first social media suicide”The GuardianISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-06-05.

[7] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/110813550/

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