By Anil Rachamalla
Publication of defamatory material against another person with the help of a computer or the internet (social media or messaging channels or emails) is known as cyber defamation.
To be a little more elaborate, if someone publishes a defamatory statement about a person or an entity on a website, social media or messaging channels or sends emails containing defamatory material to another person or an entity with the intention to defame the other person or the entity about whom the assertion has been made, that amounts to cyber defamation. It is not a petty crime, considering that it could sometimes impact the economy of a country, depending upon the information and person on whom it has been published.
Who does defamation?
- Social media news channels – A new marketplace has emerged where public shaming is a commodity and shame is an industry. Nowadays, money is made on the clicks, the more shame the more clicks and the more advertising revenue.
- Disgruntled employee – Sends derogatory, defamatory, vulgar and abusive emails to the company’s superiors or management.
- Ex-friend / Ex-spouse – Obscene messages are sent to friends/ family or even on porn sites.
- Political rivalry – Defaming rival party with false content and false context.
- Religious rivalry- Trying to manipulate perceptions and creating false propaganda.
Free speech v/s Defamation
Freedom of Expression and Speech, as provided under Article 19 (1) (a) in our Constitution, provides that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of expression and speech. However, such freedom is subject to reasonable restrictions. The protection of the reputation of the other person falls within the ambit of reasonable restriction and any comment or remark which hampers the reputation of another person will invite liability under the law of defamation.
What our law says on cyber defamation
- Section 66A – We do not have any act that supports the victim when defamed online in our current IT Act, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, relating to restrictions on online speech, as unconstitutional on grounds of violating the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
- Section 499 of IPC – 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.
- Section 469 of IPC – Says that whoever commits forgery, intending that the document or electronic record forged shall harm the reputation of any party, or knowing that it is likely to be used for that purpose shall be punished.
- Section 503 of IPC – Says that whoever threatens another with any injury to a person, reputation or property, or to the person or reputation of anyone in whom that person is interested, with intent to cause alarm to that person, or to cause that person to do any act which he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do any act which that person is legally entitled to do, as the means of avoiding the execution of such threats, commits criminal intimidation.
What’s on social media nowadays?
Engagements, divorces and baby bumps are announced on social media. Many of us are going official on social networks declaring relationship statuses, expressing opinions, confessing mistakes and announcing sexual identities.
With the above expressions, online defamation and trolling have both short and long-term effects on freedom of expression. Online defamation and abuse may result in emotional and physical stress, erosion of individual and brand identity, credibility, financial and other repercussions. In the recent past, technological abuse by bots is happening through replies and comments.
Social media intermediaries should proactively monitor content and take appropriate action against those who post defamatory content apart from having an efficient grievance redressal mechanism.
Social media usage tips
- Use unique, complex passwords (special characters) for every social media account you own and change them periodically.
- Enable (2FA) Two Factor Authentication for all your social accounts.
- Configure privacy and GPS settings for your social media platforms to control information sharing.
- Never share sensitive information on social media platforms.
- Avoid clicking on suspicious links (Google Forms and Short Links) from unknown contacts.
- Only connect with people that you know and trust in real life.
- Consent should be treated the same way, both offline and online for all purposes.
- Use message applications with end-to-end encryption.
- Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if required or you may use Browse in incognito or private mode.
- Block cookies and configure privacy settings to control information sharing.
- Do a Google Reverse Image check or use. www.tineye.com for photo verification before you forward it to others.
Stay Tuned to Cyber Talk to know more on internet ethics and digital wellness brought to you by Anil Rachamalla, End Now Foundation, www.endnowfoundation.org
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