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Dimensions of Cyber Defamation: Critical Study

Aim And Objectives:
Cyber Defamation is one of the worst forms of cybercrime which engulfs all walks of life into its fold and endangers and causes damages upon the individual and institution’s name and fame, to a larger extent.
In this context, the aim of the article / piece of opinion is to bring in awareness of amongst the readers on the gravity of the Cyber Defamation (cybercrime), its dimension in India, various provisions of the Information Technology Act and of course, solutions in totality in arresting this menace in maligning individual and institution.

What Is Cyber Defamation?

Any intentional false communication, either written or spoken, that harms a person’s reputation; decreases the respect, regard or confidence in which a person is held; or induces disparaging, hostile or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person is known as defamation.

Internet is the cheapest way of communication through text, photographs and voice/sounds. One can even explore and have a repository of information from websites and other network providers. This system of the cyber world works on websites, internet services or the internet domain. Such a system is controlled by the internet providers or by the company itself through its programmer, including having provisions of restrictions on certain websites or certain usage.

In this context, acting in an illegal manner in intruding and interfering and faking contents of individuals or institutions by technical genius or a person of acting in illegal manner, with intent of defaming and denigrating name and fame of individuals or institutions in gaining commercial edge or competitiveness or other purpose which is unpalatable or against lawful obeyance, amounts to crime which is being acted through cyber instrumentals viz., internet, website and other electronic forms and manners.

Dimension of Cyber Crime And Defamation:

Cyberspace has a very wide meaning and is not restricted to the internet but also included computers as a core medium including networks, data, software, etc. Any crime related to computer or use of computer network meaning “cybercrime”.
There are two types of defamation viz., one is related to libel and another one is related to slander.

Libel defamation means ‘injury on name and reputation of individual or institution through a written statement while slander defamation means causing such injury through oral words or statements to defame character and reputation.

Its dimension pervades across illegal access, illegal interception, data interference and offense related to child pornography, misuse of devices, etc. This also includes computer-related forgery, fraud, and offense related system interference and copyright, etc.

Provisions In Better Management And Arrest of This Menace

Cyberlaw includes all kinds of cybercrimes, electronic commerce, and freedom of expression, intellectual property rights, jurisdiction issues, and privacy rights. Cybercrimes include offenses like credit card fraud, unauthorized access to computer systems, child pornography, software and hardware piracy, and cyber stalking. Although the concept of freedom of expression includes defamation, obscenity issues, and censorship.

The concept of cybercrime is the most developing initially and it includes only the destruction or theft of computer data and programs. Yet, recently cases on defamation to one’s character, illegal access, and pornography, illegal gambling, cyber stalking are considered as a severe offense.

There are methods to block access to internet content on a larger level. However, even if websites are blocked by the internet provider or by the Govt. itself, there is still access to such features and content that is through the proxy servers.

However, Government has been making various provisions to strengthen the existing laws and brining in amendments in curtailing and arresting this menace and some of them are hereunder:

Indian Penal Code 1890

Chapter XXI of the IPC exclusively talks of defamation. Section 499 prescribes the offense
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 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 469 of IPC- Whoever commits forgery, intending that the document or electronic record forged shall harm the reputation of any party, or knowing that is likely to be used for that purpose shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

Section 503 of IPC- 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.

Further, says that whoever threatens another with any injury to reputation or property, or to the person or reputation of anyone in whom that person 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.

(B) Information Technology Act 2000

Section 66A of IT Act – any person who sends, through a computer resource or a communication device:
Any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or

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

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.

After Mumbai incident, an Information Technology Act was strengthened and was being implemented in strengthening just and fair censorship and contents of cybercrime born activities, However, despite amendments, there are still more efforts in monitoring contents and censorship upon intent and activities of elements which are prone to disturb tranquillity and denting/taunting image of individual or institution from defamatory or provoking contents from web.

Amendments in the Information Technology Act provide for the legal area for the use of the internet and other commercial activities including hacking, tracking, security, digital signature, etc.

This Act especially criminalizes the publishing and posting of the obscene information and grant powers to the police to search any premise for the criminal for posting such offensive image and defaming the innocent without a warrant and immediately arrest of the individual commenting such crime under the violation of the Act. This 2008 amendment also provides powers to the Government to block the internet site and content and arrest the criminal who is sending messages which deemed to be defamatory and offensive.

The Information Technology Act 2000 which emphasizes on the internet companies to remove all the contents within the 30 hours of the notifications by the Government of India. The contents specifically involve defamatory content on any individual, institution, religion, film, culture, and ethics, and anything which is directly harmful to the minors and weaker sections of the society and hateful act or speech or infringement of copyright.

There are many instances where websites were completely banned, such as Wikipedia, Twitter and also famous Qatar News Channel for one or other reasons. Generally, the authority banning or blocking the website is in the hands of the Central Government.

Lacuna Which Needs Attention

(A) Migration of Content
In the Indian context, which has a strong traditional and cultural value, the effectiveness of the content and its migration is so quick that the moment one website is blocked; the same content reaches to the different website. The migration of the content is the main reason why the Government failed to provide security to the victims.

(B) Technical Feasibility of The Censorship And Filtering of The Defamatory Contents

In this process, there are always difficulties in identifying and isolating as to which website is to be blocked and how and when and its implications upon other and similar contents.

(C) Surveillance

Surveillance was highly criticized by many authors as this amounts to interference on the personalized data of the companies and compromise on the copyrighted content of the author. Opinion and reviews would also be traced which may also amount to the suppression of freedom and expression.

Lack of Expertise And Technology Savvy

The cybercrime is a new paranoid scenario to the Indian environment comparatively to developed countries, the lack of expertise-ness and technology in arresting this crime which exploded in various dimensions in India is one aspect which hampers effective implementation and curtailing various anti-social and anti-national activities taking place under the guise of various forms.

Conclusion With Recommendations:
Against this foregoing background and experiences enriched during the past decades, the following solutions would assist to a large extent in arresting cybercrime and strength monitoring mechanism of Government agencies, in ensuring promoting, protecting and preserving fundamental rights embedded in our Constitution:
Privacy needed on social networking site to avoid cyber defamation:

Networking sites have seen immense popularity in the internet world. Sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and My space have its boom in popularity. Social networking sites upload not only personal data and contents but also images, songs, videos, short movies, etc. Such pictures, videos, and other items can be tagged. Thus, it is essential to protect such content and its intent in totality by this social networking to ensure privacy. Otherwise, illegal act of cybercrime endangers basic preamble of the meaning of privacy and penetrate and perform injury or cause or damage or defame name and fame of the individual or entity;

Information Technology Act to evolve rapidly changing technology/environment:

Act also needs to evolve with the rapidly changing environment of technology and the development of fraud and crime in new forms and manner.

Section 67 of the IT Act 2000 provides for punishment to whoever transmits or publishes or causes to be published or transmitted any material which is obscene in electronic form with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years and with fine which may extend to twenty five thousand rupees on first conviction and in the event of second may extend to five years and also with fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees, it does not expressly talk of cyber defamation.

above provision primarily aims at curbing the increasing number of child pornography cases and does not encompass other crimes, which would have been expressly brought within its ambit, such as, cyber defamation.

of existing legislative provisions is need of the hour at regular intervals to ensure that the network environment is adequately protected against criminal activities.

Special Force to handle cyber crimes:

Force to handle cyber crimes in State and Central domain consists of enforcement agencies including police authority, and legal luminaries plus Law Ministry, Child and Women Empowerment Ministry shall be established to exclusively bring in culprits to book and expedite trials in court effectively to ensure effective implementation.

Awareness to be created amongst vulnerable segments of the society like women, children, etc.,

Since cyber defamation is also a social offense and mostly in majority cases, women and children become a pawn to the illegal elements. Though IT Act (Amendment) 2008 has different phrases to deal with the punishment, including:

  1. punishment for publishing or transmitting the obscene material in the electronic form,
  2. punishment for publishing and transmitting material depicting children in sexually explicit act in the electronic form and
  3. punishment for publishing and transmitting any act which is sexual explicit act in electronic form of the children, Government should take measures to disseminate various existing provisions / rules focusing towards women and children, so as prevent them falling as pawn into hands of the anti-social and national elements as women and children form a quite important segment of the society.

By keeping this in mind, parents are also one of the media to make their children aware on the pros and cons of the intent and make sure children below eighteen years, should not part of social networking site and in case they are uploading of pictures or writing contents, it should be writing under the guidance of the parents.

School teachers/Faculties, relatives and well-wishers should make children aware of the consequences of browsing, searching for information and entering into the banned/restricted contents or websites.

1. Primary Sources

  1. Indian Penal Code 1860
  2. Information Technology Act 2000 – Bare Act

2. Secondary Sources

  1. The law of defamation by miller Collins
  2. Defamation law and free speech by Brian martin
  3. Informational technology act books by Vikaas Sood


  2. Defamation Act: A Summary and Overview – Iain Wilson and Max Campbell
  3. INTERNET LAW - Understanding Internet Defamation BY Kelly O'Connell, IBLS Editor
  5. Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, PC by Virginia's Personal Injury & Civil Rights Law Firm
  7. Cyber Defamation and liabilities of internet service providers and intermediary in India and UK by Vivek Kumar Verma.
  8. CERT – Wikipedia

Written By: Adv. S.Selvakumari - Bombay High Court

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