Social Media Defamation

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting judgement on it.” - James IV NIV

The believer does not slander, curse, or speak in an obscene or foul manner.” - The Prophet Muhammad

For a man of honour, Defamation is worse than death” - Bhagwat Gita

Defamation, in law, is attacking another’s reputation by a false publication of words tending to bring the person into disrepute. The concept is an elusive one and is limited in its varieties only by human inventiveness. Over a century ago defamation, even though actively present, was not an issue as such. If someone defamed in writing, it would take months or perhaps years for it to spread through the world and defame a person. Things were simpler then, but the human race is meant to evolve, so over the years development has been at its peak and a great technological revolution has come. The world is at our fingertips, thousands of important information can be stored in one device. The revolution of technology did bring a great change and eased things in the world, but as rightly said by Voltaire “with great power comes great responsibility”, technology may have made existence simpler but it has a lot of drawbacks also.

In recent times, Defamation has taken new leaps in the world, earlier where for news to reach the entire world it would take months, now it takes seconds. Social media has its perks but has a greater number of downfalls as well. A single click can destroy someone's life, even if it is later proved otherwise in court, that one statement can change everything. Online platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook have been in the game for a long time now and they have evolved greatly. They serve as one of the biggest threats to mankind as well, due to the easy accessibility, the world uses it the way they want to, some people benefit through it like small business owners who need publicity, whereas some people use it to bring other people down.

The #MeToo movement gained a lot of popularity in 2019-20 and people got to share their story without hesitation and got the support they needed, but amidst the movement, a girl went online and shared her molestation story, right or wrong, the allegation made the boy’s life a living tragedy and he committed suicide. [1]

Defamation has been defined under Section 499 of The Indian Penal Code, as an act of a person done by words, either spoken or deliberately to scrutinize, or through the mode of illustration, makes or publishes 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 particular person.

Section 66A of Information Technology Act, 2000 was repealed by the Supreme Court of India in the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, 2015 because of the vagueness in the word “offensive” in the section. The section itself stated that any message which is offensive sent via computer or any other technical device would lead to an offence. Such a power, under Section 66A, was overused by the Government in dominating or suppressing people’s freedom of speech and expression and hence repealed.

Freedom of Speech and Expression, as provided by the Constitution under Article 19(1)(a), provides that citizens shall hold the right to speak whatever they feel like and express their opinion. However, such inventiveness is subject to quite a few reasonable restrictions. The safety of reputation of a different individuality spray contained by the ambit of passable restriction and any note or state which hampers the reputation of any other person (unless the announcement is true) would invite liability under the formula of offence.

The necessary elements for it to be considered defamation are:

(a) The defamatory statement should be published

(b) The fault of the party should be established

(c) The statement is presented as a fact

(d) The damages must be proven, and in the case of social media the comment section helps greatly

If the given conditions are proven in the court of law, then the person can be penalised or taken behind bars for defamation. However, if a statement is not being fulfilled the case cannot constitute defamation.

In March 2021, social media was flooded with the Zomato case, the girl claimed that the Zomato delivery boy hit her and all this was happening on social media rather than a court, the delivery boy got a lot of hate as well but when the proper investigation was done it was found out that the girl was at fault. Her one statement online gave a poor man sleepless nights and a police investigation, all this over nothing, ultimately it was the girl who was booked by the police.

On the break of dawn of 15th March 2021, a Pakistani singer Meesha Shafi posted an online statement accusing Ali Zafar of sexual harassment, he, in turn, filed a defamation suit on her. The girl was sentenced to three years in jail for false accusations on the renowned singer and actor.[2]

As the people of the 21st century, we have the freedom of expression as well as various platforms where we can share our views with the world. Social Media is now a way of life, where we can freely write, comment and post anything. Aubrey Peeples has rightly said, “There are a lot of pros and cons of social media; it’s just how you choose to handle it and how you have to be prepared for the negatives as well.”

Sometimes effects of social media defamation can be far more dangerous on someone than we can expect. That is why online defamation is considered to have more extreme effects than offline defamation. There are various laws and cyber cell departments which are still growing and updating themselves. Schools should also start spreading awareness among children, and parents should warn their children about the cons of using social media sites.

There is a desperate need for a framework that instructs and makes individuals mindful of what to do and what not to do online, what is happening, what is correct and what is abusive, and what is not disparaging on the internet. Further, the go-betweens which give such an open stage should screen the substance posted on it and take proper actions against such clients who post abusive substance, to maintain a strategic distance from redundancy in future.

[1] [2]

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