Defamation in the Digital World

This Article is Written by Manav Sony from Amity University, Kolkata. The article throws light on defamation and electronic defamation which is taking place these days in various social media sites.

INTRODUCTION

A man’s Reputation is considered as the most valuable thing and everyone has the right to protect his/her reputation. Reputation is the only thing which matters the most in this world these days. Even when you apply for a job, the boss first checks your reputation and also your background and then only you are considered for it. The right to protect reputation is an inherent personal right which is also known as jus in rem i.e. a right good against all the other persons in this entire world. Talking about defamation, it means any sort of oral or written statement which is made by a person which results in damaging the reputation of some other person. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, defamation is any sort of offence that injures the character of a person and also fame, reputation by giving false and malicious statements. If the statement is written, it is known as “libel” and if the statement is spoken, it is known as “slander”. In order to prove any statement defamatory in nature, there are certain essential elements which have to be considered. They are enumerated as follows:

  • A statement should be made either spoken or through any expressions, signs etc.
  • The statement should refer to the plaintiff
  • The Statement must be Defamatory in nature
  • There must be an intention of the wrongdoer
  • The statement should be false
  • The statement should not at all be privileged
  • The statement must be published somewhere
  • The third-party must believe that the defamatory matter is to be true
  • The statement must cause injury to the plaintiff

When one person or group of persons try to agree in order to write or utter some defamatory words of another and one of the persons writes or utters the words when the others are present who all had agreed earlier, would be sued under the charges of joint tortfeasor provided in the defamatory matter to the persons rather than those who were acting all together or the plaintiff. Usually, the person who makes a defamatory statement first is not all liable if that particular statement is republished by another person although he expressly stated that he was reproducing what he heard from some other source. But no person has the right to repeat any sort of slanderous statements against anyone without any proper justification of the statement. If any person is aware of the fact that a statement is defamatory in nature and still repeats to spread it or communicates further, then he can be held liable for defamation at that instant. There may be publication by omission. If in any case the failure by a defendant was authorised and was also able to remove any sort of defamatory matter which is the work of some other person is the publication made by him. For suppose, if anybody tries to put up any sort of a defamatory letter on the notice board of an office or club and the person who is the in-charge has not removed the letter from the board within a reasonable time then that person also would be liable for defamation. 

Defences Available Against Defamation

Talking about the defences that are available against defamation, there are certain points which are enumerated as follows: –

  1. Justification by truth
  2. Fair and Bona fide Comment
  3. Fair Comment and Justification distinguished
  4. Absolute Privilege or absolute statement
  5. Parliamentary Privilege as per Indian Constitution
  6. Qualified Privilege or a legal statement
  7. Opinion Statement
  8. Consent
  9. Censure passed by a person in good faith having lawful authority
  10. The accusation made to the person in good faith

Defamation in the Digital World

Our world has actually progressed a lot. From having pagers to having keypad mobile phones to having touch screen phones, the technology has earned a lot of progress during these recent times. The progress in digitalisation has also led to rise in various sort of crimes. One such crime is known as Cyber Defamation. This particular theory means publishing of any false statement by a person against any other person in cyberspace i.e. social media sites that can actually harm the reputation of that particular person and also cause injury too. In our country, defamation is treated as a civil and criminal offence. Cyber Defamation is entirely a new type of concept. The defamatory statements must refer to the plaintiff and the intention must be to lower the reputation against the others which is done through by using modern technological devices like computers or the internet. If any person publishes any sort of defamatory statements on a website or sends any E-Mails which contains defamatory materials to that particular person to whom the statement has been made would lead to cyber defamation.  

Referring to the Liabilities of our country, there are certain sections which come under this particular heading. They are as follows:

  • Section 499 of The Indian Penal Code which gives the definition of defamation
  • Section 500 of IPC that gives the punishment which is two years of imprisonment or fine or both
  • Section 469 of IPC which deals with forgery
  • Section 503 of IPC which deals with criminal intimidation through electronic methods

Apart from all these, there was a section which was section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. That particular section has been struck down by the Supreme Court in the year 2015. It talked about offences made through electronic means. 

Cases

1. Kalandi Charan Lenka v. State of Odisha:

In this particular case, the petitioner was being stalked continuously by someone and also a fake account of hers was prepared by the culprit in which some obscene messages and pictures were sent to the friends. Also, a morphed naked picture of the plaintiff was posted on the walls of the hostel where the plaintiff used to stay. After a clear- cut search operation by the police, they had arrested the culprit and presented before the court of law. The court held the culprit liable for committing such a big offence. 

2. Rajiv Dinesh Gadkari v. Smt, Nilangi Rajiv Gadkari:

In this particular case, when the defendant got the divorce letter from her husband, she filed a suit against him for harassing her by uploading morphed photographs and defamed her. The particular offence was registered in the court of law and in the end the wife claimed compensation of Rs. 75,000. 

Conclusion

The intense volume of information and an easy way of transferring it on the Internet makes it a critical source of defamation. After researching on the aforesaid topic, it can be said that the present scenario of India regarding laws do not have an adequate approach towards cases of cyber defamation. Also, defamation laws should be sufficiently flexible to be applied to all media. As the defamation laws in the era of the Internet, it becomes practically impossible to apply the principle of 18th and 19th-century cases to the issue arising on the Internet in the 21st century. Cyber Defamation in Corporate world can have far-reaching effects on the organizations in some cases. However, there are laws in place to deal with cyber defamation and with the admissibility of electronic records as evidence things have been eased. If the plaintiff is able to prove that defamation has occurred then the onus lies on the defendant to prove that he was innocent. Further, there is also Cyber Crime Investigation Cells to deal with Cyber Crimes in India.

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