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The use of social media has revolutionised the way information is accessed and people communicate with each other. The ease of sharing information has provided the users with the freedom to interact without any barriers. However, this freedom is sometimes misused by commonly called ‘trolls’ who post unnecessary, false statements about someone, harming their reputation and defaming them.
The low cost of using the internet has given the opportunity to people to defame a person on different interactive platforms. People do not have to reveal their identity to send a message or post a comment on forums, social media websites or bulletin boards. This, mixed with the ability to post a statement from anywhere, has resulted in increased cases of online or cyber defamation in India.
What is Defamation?
Defamation is wrongfully and intentionally publishing words about a person which may tarnish that person's status, good name, or reputation. Defamation is categorised into libel- written form of defamation and slander- an oral form of defamation. A person's reputation is affected only if the defamatory statement is made to someone other than that person. This means defamatory statement must be disclosed to a third person, amounting to the publication of that statement.
When a person is defamed in the cyberspace, it is known as cyber or online defamation. In cyber defamation, internet or other electronic device is used as a method to defame the other person or lowering the reputation of a person on a public platform. Online or cyber defamation in India can be divided into defamation by:
Primary writer- A person who has written the defamatory statement and published it on a website. Service provider- The ISP or bulletin board service providers that authorised publication of such statement.
Laws dealing with cyber defamation in India
Chapter XXI of the Indian Penal Code deals with defamation in India. Section 499 of the IPC states that a person who uses some words spoken or intended to be read, by signs or visible representation to make or publish any imputation about a person in order to harm their reputation is guilty of defamation in India.
Section 500 of the IPC states that a person who is liable under Section 499 would be punished with simple imprisonment for up to 2 years, with fine or both. Within the meaning of publication, posting any defamatory statement on a social media network, website, forum or bulletin board is also considered as defamation in India.
Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 was quashed by the Supreme Court in India. The section stated that sending any ‘offensive’ message to a computer, mobile or tablet is a crime, however, the meaning of the word ‘offensive’ remained unclear. The Government started using the provision to suppress people’s freedom of speech and expression.
How to file a complaint against cyber defamation?
A person can file a complaint in any Cybercrime Investigation Cell against online defamation. CCI cells deal with crimes relating to electronic devices, computers, computer networks, computer resources and the Internet.
A criminal case can also be filed in the appropriate court against defamation under Section 499-502 of the IPC.
The first case of cyber defamation in India was SMC Pneumatics (India) Pvt. Ltd. v. Jogesh Kwatra. In this case, the company was defamed by an employee, who was sending derogatory, defamatory, obscene and abusive emails to the employers and subsidiaries of the company. The Delhi High Court held that the employee was liable for defamation under Section 499 of the IPC.
The Internet Service Providers (ISP) or website host’s liability in case of cyber defamation can be reduced by taking appropriate steps like putting up warning notice for users against posting any defamatory content, constant monitoring of the website, having a user agreement in place, and so on.
The internet is a vast nexus bringing people together and providing them with an opportunity to create, share and receive data online. However, when this platform is used to defame or harm the reputation of a person, stringent actions must be taken. A person can hire a cybercrime lawyer in their city to file a complaint against online defamation in India.