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The Internet has had a massive impact on many areas of personal and professional life. Defamation laws and libel lawsuits are one such area and many individuals, businesses, and website owners have fallen foul of the belief that they can write anything about anybody when they are online. With the proliferation of social networking websites ("SNW") and their widespread use, especially amongst the youth, one observes certain legal loopholes in their operation and use. On the one hand, while such Social Networking Websites provide an easy to use, convenient and cost effective way of networking, however the flip side presents the drawback of such Social Networking Websites. One such glaring drawback is the opportunity they provide for "cyber-defamation".

WHAT IS A SOCIAL NETWORKING WEBSITES (SNW)?

The most commonly accepted definition of Social Networking Websites, first proposed by Boyd and Ellison, defines social network sites to mean ‘web-based services that allow individuals to

·  Construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system,

·  Articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and

· And traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system’[1].

 

The popularity of Social Networking Site among school students gives rise to two distinct kinds of threats to privacy. The first set of concerns relates to the disclosure of personal information by the students themselves. The second set of concerns, on the other hand, relates to the posting of personal information about a student by other people, including the possibility of other people altering someone’s personal information. Franks agrees, “Public comment has been unleashed by the internet to prick pomposity, and to undermine those who would keep the truth to anointed insiders. It should not be warped by defamation law.”[2]

 

Two girls were arrested over their Facebook post questioning Mumbai shutting down for Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray's funeral. The case were booked under Section 295 (a) of the IPC (for hurting religious sentiments) and Section 64 (a) of the Information Technology Act, 2000, but were granted bail within hours after they furnished personal bonds. The session’s court accepted the police closure report seeking dropping of charges against the two girls. The arrests triggered a nationwide outrage. This should not be seen merely as "social media regulation", but as a restriction on freedom of speech and expression by both the law and the police. Section 66A makes certain kinds of speech-activities illegal if communicated online, but legal if that same speech-activity is published in a newspaper. Finally, this is similar to the Aseem Trivedi case where the police wrongly decided to press charges and to arrest him for his cartoon against corruption and Politicians.

It is to be noted that intermediaries or other users of Social Networking Websites may not be aware of such defamatory statements by the author on their own virtual profile. Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 gives immunity to network service providers.

 

REMEDIES:


PROTECTION OF WEBSITES WITH MEDIA LIABILITY INSURANCE

Media liability insurance can be obtained through many insurance companies and these policies are created to specifically deal with the costs of defamation through online and offline sources. These can prove to be an inexpensive way to help counteract future problem.

 

One should keep in mind the following things-

- To prevent cyber stalking avoid disclosing any information pertaining to oneself. This is as good as disclosing your identity to strangers in public place.

- Always avoid sending any photograph online particularly to strangers and chat friends as there have been incidents of misuse of the photographs.

- Never send your credit card number to any site that is not secured, to guard against frauds.

- Always keep a watch on the sites that children are accessing to prevent any kind of  harassment or depravation in children.

- Web site owners should watch traffic and check any irregularity on the site. Putting host- based intrusion detection devices on servers may do this.

- Use of firewalls may be beneficial.

- Web servers running public sites must be physically separate protected from internal corporate network.

[1] Article: Teenagers, Legal Risks and Social Networking Sites by Melissa de Zwart, David Lindsay, Michael Henderson, Michael Phillips; Published by: Monash University. Date 01-10-2011

[2] Technocrime, Edited By Stephane Leman-Langlois, 2010 edition, Page No.73


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