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Online Defamation And Laws Related To It

Meaning of Defamation

In general terms, defamation means the act of communicating false statements about any person that injure or damage the reputation or character of that person. It means harming the reputation of the person in front of a third party.

Under Section 499 of The Indian Penal Code (IPC), defamation has been defined as an act of a person done by words, either spoken or deliberately to scrutinize, or through the mode of illustration, makes or publish any accusation with the main motive to harm the other person or with the clear knowledge that such an act can cause distress to him or her, also defaming the reputation of that specific person comes under an act.

Defamation can be categorized into two parts:

  • Libel:
    Any defamatory statement which has been published mainly in a written form comes under this category.:
  • Slander:
    Any defamatory statement made through the words not mainly in a written word but through an oral mode comes under this category.

Online/ Cyber Defamation

Cyber defamation or online defamation refers to any act which has taken place through online mode or a person, is defamed in cyberspace. This kind of defamatory statement is made mainly when the computer has a proper internet connection and it is used as a weapon or a device to defame a person by posting something irrelevant or any defamatory statement in various social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or emails, just to defame the person with all clear intention.

The social networking sites has undoubtedly become a great blessing in our lives and it has also helped in the societal development but it has also become an equally effective breeding ground for defaming a person by making defamatory statements.
The medium of committing such an act is different, although the law of defamation is the same.

The liability behind cyber defamation law is as follows:

  • On the author of the derogatory material/statement online
  • If the retailer or the service provider acts as an intermediary without providing any kind of modification in the context of defamation, the intermediary is not liable according to section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000. In addition to this protection, it is also subject to the condition that the intermediary shall comply with intermediary guidelines and due-diligence which are imposed by the Central Government and such inflammatory or illegal content needs to get removed as soon as the government agency receives the original or the actual content.
Unfortunately, nowadays a lot of people are experiencing cyber defamation. Consider the Gurugram suicide case in the news. A 12th standard boy committed suicide when a girl posted an Instagram story that the boy raped her. She mentioned that she was raped by him two years ago and she has no proof to justify her statement. Her story instantly got viral and people started supporting her by sharing it on various platforms without giving a thought to the truth. The accused boy was pronounced guilty by the court of Instagram. This new social media law society of India made that little boy end up his life.

Essential Elements:

The necessary elements for a statement to qualify as a defamatory statement are as follows:
Modification
Pictures that are modified to disgrace or dishonor the reputation of another person are also a clear case of defamation.

Facts
The statement should be presented not as an opinion but as a fact. Facts are statements that can be proved accurate or inaccurate while opinions are your personal perspectives or observations.

Publication
The statement of fact should be published on any social networking site, and then only a person can file a defamation complaint.

Opinions
Opinions are privileged under the law. So an opinion in itself is not a defamatory statement. But at times, few opinions are considered, as facts by the court, if they have caused actual damage to another party.

Laws that are implemented on cyber defamation in India
In India, a person can be made liable for defamation, both under civil and criminal law.

Under IPC that is Indian Penal Code

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 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 offense can extend up to 3 years and a fine.

Section 503 of IPC deals with the offense of criminal intimidation by use of electronic means to damage one’s reputation in society.

Under the IT Act that is 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 or any online site, he/she can launch a complaint to the cybercrime investigation cell which is a part of the Crime Investigation Department.

What kind of defamatory statements or publications are acceptable by courts in India?

According to, section 65A and 65B of the Indian Evidence Act:
  • Any electronic record printed on paper, or recorded, or copied in optical or magnetic media shall be considered as a document and it shall be accepted by the court.
  • Online chats are also permissible and acceptable by courts.
  • Electronic mails are also relevant, justifiable, and acceptable by courts.

Case laws:
Section 66A of Information & Technology Act 2000 (IT Act), was wiped out by the Supreme Court of India in the Shreya Singhal v. Union of India case due to vagueness in the meaning of the word 'offensive' in the section. The section says that sending any sort of offensive messages to a computer or any other technical device in which communication can be held, would be an offense. Such unrestricted power, under section 66A of the IT Act, was exploited by the Government in shortening and suppressing people's freedom of speech and expression and hence got repealed.

Amidst lockdown, when was entire nation was fighting against COVID-19, strange news had appeared from Delhi. The news was about a group known as the Bois Locker Room. The facts of the controversy are that a few guys in their 11th and 12th standards with a group named Bois Locker Room allegedly made certain remarks on minor girls which were sexist and objectified and tried to defame their identity. Some even went to the extent of discussing raping those minor girls. As per the news reports, few of them have been arrested under 66A of the IT Act for cyberbullying and under section 499 of the Indian Penal Code.

In the case of SMC Pneumatics (India) Pvt. Ltd. v. Jogesh Kwatra, wherein a dissatisfied employee sent derogatory, defamatory, vulgar, and abusive emails to the company's employers and its subordinates to defame the company’s name along with its managing director. The High Court of Delhi permitted ex-parte ad interim injunctions curbing the defendant from defaming the plaintiff in both the physical and in cyberspace.

In case of Kalandi Charan Lenka Vs. In the state of Odisha, the petitioner was constantly being stalked, and a fake account of her was created later and vulgar messages were sent to the friends by the accused. A morphed naked picture was also posted on the walls of the hostel where the victim actually stayed. The court, in this case, held the culprit liable for his offense.

In the case of Swami Ramdev and Anne v. Facebook Inc. & Ors 2019, Judge Pratibha Singh has ordered all defamatory content that is posted against yoga teacher Baba Ramdev to be removed, without any territorial restrictions or limits. It states that if the content is uploaded from India or on a computer device in India, then courts in India should therefore have international jurisdiction to issue decisions worldwide.

Facebook, has filed an appeal against the decisions issued by the division bench of the Delhi High Court. The reason for the said appeal is that although he knows the people who have uploaded such content, the applicant was not involved in this case. It is also controversial that Baba Ramdev has not shown strong prima facie evidence of irrevocable loss. In its complaint, Facebook also believes, among other things that global seizure regulations, are contrary to national sovereignty and the international community. It is so because they violate defamation laws in other countries. Besides, this order also undermines the immunities granted to them, in other jurisdictions.

In the case of, Rajiv Dinesh Gadkari through P.A. Depamala Gadkari vs Smt. Nilangi Rajiv Gadkari on 16th October 2009, after receiving a divorce letter from her husband, the respondent filed a suit against her husband for repeatedly harassing her by uploading obscene and vulgar photographs to defame her. The offense has already been registered, and maintenance of Rs.75,000 per month has been claimed by the wife (respondent).

Conclusion
With great power comes great responsibility. This phrase appropriately describes the situation of the use of technology and how we humans are misusing it. The world now is entirely dependent on technology especially after this pandemic situation where we can see that technology is ruling the world. As a result of which more and more people have started using the internet as a medium to share their thoughts, views on various issues and problems in society. Not only in India but all over the world, the use of social media has increased. Politicians are also using it as a medium to reach out to the masses.

But just like a coin has two sides, similarly the use of social networking sites also has two sides. On one side, it helps us to raise our voice on societal issues, similarly, it has also become a medium in which online or cyber defamation is also happening. Some laws prohibit people from posting such defamatory statements or content but most people are no quite aware or are negligent enough to realize what is right and what is wrong.

At times, when free speech runs conflicting with a person's reputation, it becomes necessary for the State to establish a boundary, to prevent free speech from becoming a weapon in the hands of certain people. There is an urgent need for a system that educates and makes people aware of what to do and what not to, what is right and what is wrong, and what is defamatory and what is not in cyberspace. Further, the negotiators, which provides people with such an open platform should monitor the content posted on that particular platform and take necessary actions against such users who post such defamatory statement or content to avoid any sort of repetition in the future.

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