M Hegin Han
Student, Government Law College, Kozhikode.
The 21st century has witnessed a paradigm shift in the activities of people. Those who used to spend a good quarter of the day in public clubs, libraries, reading rooms and playgrounds now started to spare half of their days on social media websites. Back in the old days’ people used to enjoy sarcasm and box cartoons in the newspapers. These are now supplanted with trolls and memes on social media. Trolls in internet parlance, unlike memes or jokes, are contents intentionally created to tease something or someone. Before looking upon the legal provisions let us understand what is cyber trolling.
Defining Cyber Trolling
Cyber trolling means posting inflammatory material to lure others into combative arguments for personal entertainment or gratuitous disruption, especially in an online community or discussion. On the internet, it is usually posted to incite anger, provoke, harass or annoy the person who is being subjected to trolling.
Legal Provisions and Punishments under IPC
In Shreya Singal v. Union of India, the Hon’ble Supreme court on 24 March 2015 has struck down Section 66A of the Information and Technology Act, 2000 which earlier prescribed punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services etc. The Hon’ble court held that Section 66A is unconstitutional as it violates the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India. This gave an impression to the people using the internet that they are free to post anything over social media platforms. But keeping aside the provisions of the Information and Technology Act 2000 there are certain provisions under the Indian Penal Code of 1860 which punishes the creator of the trolls. They are stated as follows:
a) Defamatory nature:
The Right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution is subject to the reasonable restriction of defamation imposed under Article 19 (2). Therefore if a troll contains any statements or words or signs or any visible representations which would harm the reputation of the person in troll then the creator of the troll commits the offence of defamation defined under section 499 of IPC. By virtue of section 500 of IPC Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both.
b) Outraging nature:
Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860 defines Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty. In Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan and Apparel Export Promotion Council v. AK Chopra, the Supreme Court held that the offence relating to the modesty of a woman cannot be treated as trivial. What constitutes an outrage to female modesty is nowhere defined. In Tarkeshwar Sahu v. the State of Bihar, the Supreme Court held that modesty is a virtue which attaches to a female on account of her sex. So therefore if a person creates a troll which would outrage the modesty of a woman then that person shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.
c) Harassing nature:
If a man creates a troll which contains sexually coloured remarks about a woman then he commits the offence punishable under section 354-A of the Indian Penal Code of 1860. By virtue of section 354-A (3) any man who commits the offence specified in 354-A shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or both.
d) Intimidating nature:
In recent news, filmmaker Karan Johar is pursuing legal actions against those trolls which came up on social media connecting him with the death of a popular Bollywood actor. If a troll is intentionally created with an object to intimidate a person then the creator commits the offence punishable under section 506 of IPC with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine or with both.
e) Seditious Nature
Justice Deepak Gupta while delivering a speech on the topic “Law of sedition in India and Freedom of Expression” at the workshop of lawyers organised by the Praleen Public Charitable Trust and Lecture Committee at Ahmadabad, Gujarat said that Criticism of the policies of the Government is not sedition unless there is a call for public disorder or incitement to violence. So if a troll brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law then it would amount to sedition and the creator of the content shall be punished under section 124A with imprisonment for life to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years to which fine may be added or with fine.
Most individuals who create a social media account for themselves, do so in the hopes of creating a personal or professional network. However, they fall prey to the neverending cycle of excitement the cyber world has to offer. Once fallen, the social media platforms will start ruling his life. As a result of this, people become so careless and post whatever piques their interests which might eventually become filled with hatred and anger. Thus we need to remember that actions on social media platforms aren’t beyond the law’s reach. We must strive to be a law-abiding citizens even in the cyber world because the law’s hands are long enough to put the offenders behind bars.
References & Citations
- Cyber Trolling. In: The English Dictionary-Offline.
- Shreya Singhal v. Union Of India, AIR 2015 SC 1523.
- Lawman’s, Criminal Manual 40 (ed. 2019).
- J.N Pandey, Constitutional Law Of India, Central Law Agency (54th ed. 2017).
- Vishaka v State of Rajasthan, AIR 1997 SC 3011.
- Apparel Export Promotion Council v AK Chopra, AIR 1999 SC 625.
- Tarkeshwar Sahu v State of Bihar, (2006) 8 SCC 560.
- Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, The Indian Penal Code, LexisNexis, (36th ed, 2019).