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Social Media and Online Defamation

Meaning of defamation

In general term defamation means a false statement presented as a fact that causes injury or damage to the character of the person it is about. It means harming the reputation of a person in front of a third party. There are two main types of defamation: libel which means written defamation, and slander which is also known as verbal defamation.

Online defamation

When a person is defamed in the cyberspace, it is known as cyber defamation or online defamation. Such potentially defamatory statement which made online or through social media -- such as via Facebook or LinkedIn -- that involves the written (or "posted") word, is considered libel. The internet and social media are undoubtedly a great thing for people and society in general for development and growth, but they are also a uniquely effective breeding ground for potentially libelous statements.

Many people have learned that the internet allows people to speak their mind almost too easily. The internet is crowded with interesting web sites where someone could intentionally or accidentally leave a potentially defamatory comment or post. Such as, letters to the editor of local newspapers, public comments on media (i.e., newspaper or magazine) web sites, blogs and comments to blog postings or on the social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and chat groups on WhatsApp.

While some web sites screen posts for inflammatory or illegal content, the screening systems are not geared to examine every post for defamatory content, and so many defamatory postings end up online.

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 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.

Shreya Singhal V Union of India (2015)

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 is struck down in its entirety being violation of Article 19(1)(a) and not saved under Article 19(2).) Section 69A and the Information Technology (Procedure & Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules 2009 are constitutionally valid. Further, Section 79 is valid subject to Section 79(3)(b) being read down and so on.

Case Laws::
  • Kalandi Charan Lenka vs. State of Odisha 16/01/2017

    In the instant case, the petitioner was continuously being stalked, and a fake account of her was later created and obscene messages were sent to the victims’ friends by the culprit. A morphed necked picture was also posted on the wall of the hostel where the victim stayed. The court held the culprit liable for the offence.
  • Rajiv Dinesh Gadkari through P.A. Depamala Gadkari vs Smt. Nilangi Rajiv Gadkari

    16.10.2009 – 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).

As the use of internet has expanded, many people have started using internet more as a means of communicating their thoughts on various issues and problems. 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. Celebrity Stars are using these as a medium to connect to their fans and well-wishers.

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, so we have to be aware of what we are posting online. Posting offensive statement may put you in imprisonment as per the Indian Penal Code.   

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