Friday, March 14, 2014

Can a facebook post be defamatory?

The world wide web represents democratization of news and views. The sheer freedom it provides as an independent platform above and beyond geographic boundaries sometimes makes its users forget that they still need to operate within the limits imposed by the laws of the land they are otherwise governed by.

I came across this interesting site published by some Asian School of Cyber Laws. It is an interesting portal which lists out a few dos and donts based on Indian laws. The gist is as follows: "Before posting on Facebook, ask yourself one question - If this comment were about my family, or me, would I be offended? If your answer is yes, DO NOT post." Read this short document they have put up to get a broad sense of what this is all about:

There are of course exemptions where the defendant could prove that his words were factual or for greater public good. But it also points out that if the words incite undue tensions in a particular group of people, it could be considered defamatory. While on one hand this law may be used by the powerful to quiet voices of legitimate criticism, on the other hand it empowers people to protect their dignity if they feel offended.

I learnt that it is good to be aware of the following sections under the Indian Penal Code (I am no lawyer and do not understand much beyond the plain English extracts here. Also read the Cyber Crimes link at the very last):

Section 469. Forgery for purpose of harming reputation

(Some people may forge an identity to post something defamatory. This apparently is in itself wrong.)

Whoever commits forgery, 1[intending that the document or Electronic Record forged] shall harm the reputation of any party, or knowing that it is likely to used for that purpose, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine....

Section 499. Defamation

(Can't offend. There are exceptions of course. Read the indiankanoon link above)

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, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person....

Section 504. Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace

(Can't intentionally provoke)

Whoever intentionally insults, and thereby gives provoca­tion to any person, intending or knowing it to be likely that such provocation will cause him to break the public peace, or to commit any other offence, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

Section 505. Statements conducing to public mischief

(No rumor mongering)

1[505. Statements conducing to public mischief.—2[(1)] Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report,—

 (a) with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, any offi­cer, soldier, 3[sailor or airman] in the Army, 4[Navy or Air Force] 5[of India] to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such; or

 (b) with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility; or

 (c) with intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community,

shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to 6[three years], or with fine, or with both.

Section 507. Criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication

(No anonymous threatening)

Whoever commits the offence of criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication, or having taken precaution to conceal the name or abode of the person from whom the threat comes, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, in addition to the punishment provided for the offence by the last preceding section.

1. WSJ article:
2. Shantanu Basu
3. Cyber crimes

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