REGULATION OF ABUSIVE TROLLS

INTRODUCTION

Trolling refers to the intentional online posting of offensive, defamatory or derogatory, irrelevant content on social media for the sole purpose of mocking someone or spreading hatred. Trolling affects the victim mentally as well as emotionally and they also tend to lose confidence in themselves. If left unchecked social media might soon become a platform for spreading hatred rather than happiness. Recently, Tanishq had telecasted an advertisement where they had tried to depict inter-caste unity and love. But this ad sparked controversies among netizens. In the ad, they had shown a Hindu daughter-in-law being escorted by her Muslim mother-in-law for the former’s baby shower ceremony. But netizens slammed and trolled Tanishq on social media and most widely on Twitter with hashtags boycotting Tanishq as they felt that the ad promoted ‘love jihad’.[1] Due to widespread trolling, they had to remove the ad from all their social media accounts for telecasting nothing wrong. This shows that regulation of abusive trolls is a must in India.

Are there any present laws in India to regulate trolling?

Usually, trollers troll from anonymous or fake accounts which makes it difficult to identify them. But there are certain laws present against defamation, sexual harassment, criminal intimidation, online stalking, etc.

Section 499 of IPC – This section deals with defamation. It says that if any words intentionally spoken or written or implied tend to harm the reputation of any person and if are published to a third party can be held as defamatory. This definition has been extended to online mediums as well and any person posting defamatory content on social media can be held liable for online defamation. Section 500 lists down punishment for defamation.[2]

Section 354A of IPC – This section says that a man making sexually coloured remarks against women (even on social media) will be held liable for sexual harassment under this section. Punishment is imprisonment up to one year or fine or both.[3]

Section 354D Of IPC – It states that any man who monitors the use by a woman of the internet, email, or any other form of electronic communication, commits the offence of stalking.[4]

Section 503 of IPC – Whoever threatens another with any injury to his 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 threat, commits criminal intimidation. This regulation is useful against the rape threats which are widely used in social networking sites to spread hatred.[5]

Section 66E of the IT Act – This act deals with the violation of the Privacy of an individual. Whoever, intentionally or knowingly captures, publishes, or transmits the image of a private area of any person without his or her consent, under circumstances violating the privacy of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years or with a fine not exceeding two lakh rupees, or with both.[6]

Section 67 of the IT Act – This act deals with posting obscene materials on social media or any electronic form. This section says that any material published or circulated in electronic form which is lascivious or appeals to be of prurient interest or which may tend to deprave or corrupt person shall be held liable under this section.[7]

But all these acts and sections either deal with tarnishing a person’s reputation or are related to protecting and safeguarding the modesty of women. If the remark is not sexual then the person cannot file a suit under most of these acts except defamation. None of these deal with the act of abusive trolling in general which includes publishing an offensive statement or intimidating or menacing statements. Also, all these sections contain punishment for heinous crimes which require more attention due to their impact. No law that specifically focuses on trolling has been implemented. So, due to this complaints regarding trolling might receive less importance. Thus, the need for a law that focuses specifically on trolling as an offence is necessary.

What should be the way forward?

A law that focuses on curbing offensive and abusive trolling should be implemented. But the law should not curb Freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) of the Constitution and it should not be misused. To regulate such offences an effective complaint reporting mechanism should be developed. Accounts spreading hatred and false statements regarding others should be reported and deactivated. If multiple complaints are received against the same account or if a troller does not stop creating a nuisance then he should be liable to pay a penalty and his account should be permanently blocked. A cyber cell department should be allocated for dealing only with abusive trolls so that work is equally distributed and no case goes unnoticed.

Laws to regulate trolling in other countries

Australia – Australian government had introduced Social Media Anti Trolling Law which aims to curb online trolling and abuse. This law required the social media intermediaries to find the identities of anonymous users posting such defamatory and offensive statements. If the intermediaries fail to do so then they will be liable to pay the penalty.

United Kingdom – The Malicious Communications Act, 1998, and the Communications Act 2003 enacted in the UK deal with the prevention and regulation of hate, threat, and indecent messages in electronic form.

New Zealand – The Harmful Digital Communications Act was enacted in 2015 in New Zealand. This act makes it an offence to cause harm by posting online content (Section 22). It further lists down what constitutes harm in a detailed manner.[8]

Conclusion

Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech and expression with reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2). But in today’s age of social media under the pretext of freedom of speech and expression people do not hesitate in spreading hatred. Fair criticism turns into hate comments or offensive statements. So, a law is essential for these trollers that don’t curb freedom of speech and expression. Implementation is one of the important aspects as otherwise, such anonymous accounts might keep abusing without the fear of punishment or penalty.

Author(s) Name: Niyati Tushar Tejani (Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai)

References:

[1] ‘What’s the controversial Tanishq ad and why #BoycottTanishq is trending?’ (Mumbai Mirror, 16 Feb 2022) <https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/news/india/whats-the-controversial-tanishq-ad-and-why-is-boycotttanishq-trending-on-social-media/articleshow/78636691.cms> accessed 15 February 2022

[2] Indian Penal Code, 1860, Section 499

[3] Indian Penal Code, 1860, Section 354A

[4] Indian Penal Code, 1860, Section 354D

[5] Indian Penal Code, 1860, Section 503

[6] Information Technology Act, 2000, Section 66E

[7] Information Technology Act, 2000, Section 67

[8] Harmful Digital Communications Act, 2015, Section 22

error: Content is protected !!