Defamation in the age of internet

MdBaharul Islam

“With great power comes great responsibility” a familiar phrase in popular culture from the Spiderman story lines appropriately describes the situation of the use of technology and its potential misuse. The development and growth of technology have brought a drastic change in the world. The Internet has made many things easier for all of us through various social networking sites. Whether it is communication or access to information, these things have become a piece of cake for all of us. But these facilities may sometimes lead to misuse also. As users can publish and disseminate information through these social networking sites, Defamation has become a subject of concern. With the rise of so-called trends of sharing or posting information or pictures on certain social networking sites and commenting on them have increased the risk of ‘Cyber Defamation’.

Defamation means harming the reputation of a person in the eyes of third person and this can be done by words of mouth, written words, by signs or by visible representations of anything which harms the reputation of the person. The defamatory statement can lower the reputation of the person in eyes of public it may be caused intentionally or unintentionally. Defamation done in cyber world is known as cyber defamation it is a new concept, in cyber defamation the defamation is done through new medium or we can say virtual medium but the definition of traditional defamation is also applicable to cyber defamation. Cyber defamation is also known as online defamation.

In online defamation internet or computer is use to publish any defamatory material to harm the reputation of any person. If someone sends an email to other person which contain defamatory material or publish anything on website by which the reputation of a person get injured then this would amount to cyber or online defamation. Cyber defamation not merely affects the welfare of a community but as a whole. This type of defamation also affects the economy of country depending on the victim against whom the defamatory statement is published and also depends on the information which is published. The online statements are accessible to public who uses online services, so the online defamation may harm the dignity and injure the reputation of the victim. Sometime the author who publishes the statement does not have control on it because duplication of the statement and author loss control on publishing his statement on cyber world. If the statement is edited or deleted in very short time after publishing it but it is possible that someone may be copied or mirrored it and made it available in public which is difficult to take away. If the information is mirrored then it may available in public even it is removed from the main or original source by the real writer.There are various medium by which the online defamation is committed these are –social networking website like facebook, instagram etc. email, any website, forum sites, any discussion group etc.

Freedom of Speech and Expression, as provided by the Constitution of India under Article 19 (1) (a), provides that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. However, such freedom is subject to reasonable restriction. The protection of 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.

The law gives protection to man’s reputation, which to some is dearer than life itself. Love of reputation inspires people to do great things, acquire fame and name, which is the mainspring of life in every walk of life. The aim of the law of defamation is to protect one’s reputation, honour, integrity and character as much as the right to enjoyment of property, health, personal safety, liberty and a number of other privileges.

In India, a person can be made liable for defamation both under civil and criminal law. 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 offence can extend up to 3 years and fine. Section 503 of IPC deals with the offence of criminal intimidation by use of electronic means to damage one’s reputation in society.Section 66A, Information Technology Act,2000 – This law has been struck down by Supreme Court in ShreyaSinghal v. Union of India 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’.

With just a little extra effort and care, this situation can easily be avoided. There are some important points to remember and actions one can take to avoid liability on social media – Think carefully about what you’re writing and try to be specific, Don’t post anything when you’re angry or emotional, Fact check is most important before posting, Avoid making criminal allegations or associating people with terrorist/hate groups, Be cautious when writing about private citizens, Be careful when adding hashtags to the end of your post in social sites, Avoid modifying photos & videos in order to portray a person or business in a negative light, Avoid posting re-used clips that are taken out of context, Chose appropriate thumbnails for you online videos, Use strong password to protect your online profiles. . There is a dire need of a system which educates and makes people aware of what to do and what not to do, what is wrong and what is right and what is defamatory and what is not defamatory in the cyber space. Further, the intermediaries which provide such an open platform should monitor the content posted on it and take appropriate actions against such users who post such defamatory content in order to avoid repetition in the future. If a person has been defamed in cyberspace, he can make a complaint to the cybercrime investigation cell. It is a unit of the Crime Investigation Department.