Bombay HC: Need of Stricter Norms for Inflammatory Posts on Social Media

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A Writ Petition was filed before the Bombay High Court seeking the Court to direct the state to take appropriate action against Abu Faisal (not a party to the dispute) for posting objectionable content on social media.

The Court, after making relevant observations, disposed of the petition.

Brief Facts

A person named Abu Faizal had been posting objectionable video clips and offensive messages on YouTube, Facebook and other social media websites. The petitioner alleges that the contents of the posts and messages have the potential to create communal disharmony and a sense of hostility between Hindus and Muslims. The petitioner contends that despite having approached the police and the State Government for deleting said clips/messages, the police and Government have been dormant. The petitioner has thus approached the Court requesting them to direct the police and state to take necessary action concerning the same.

Petitioner’s Prayer

The petitioner has approached the Court seeking issuance of a writ or any other order directing the respondents to take preventive action for deleting the hate speech video from Abu Faizal’s social media account. The petitioner further requests the Court to direct the social media companies to permanently block his access to his social media accounts on YouTube, Google and Facebook. Additionally, the petitioner also requested the Court to issue directions to ensure preventive measures to be taken to prevent misuse of social media in future.

Petitioner’s Submissions

The Petitioner’s Counsel referred to the decision passed by the Supreme Court in the case of Manohar Lal v. Vinesh Anand to contend that Abu Faizal is an offender and relevant action under the laws are required to be taken against him. Furthermore, an FIR for a similar crime has been registered against him in Hyderabad under Sections 153-A, 269, 188, 505(1)(b), 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code read with Section 67 of the Information Technology Act. Abu Faizal has repeatedly committed these offences, and thus the police must register an FIR under Section 154 of the CrPC as per the decision passed in Lalita Kumari v. Government of Uttar Pradesh. The petitioner contends that the matter in question is essential to maintain the balance and rapport of the various religious communities in India.

Respondent’s Submissions

Facebook’s Counsel submitted that his client would be willing to remove the objectionable posts if the Court directs the same and if the petitioner provides the requisite URLs for the same.

Google LLC filed an affidavit-in-reply stating that the said objectionable content had already been taken down for violating YouTube’s community guidelines.

The Counsel representing Union of India relied on the judgment passed in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India where Section 66A of the IT Act had been struck down as it violated Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. However, Section 69A of the Act along with the Information Technology (Procedure & Safeguard for Blocking Access Information by Public) Rules, 2009 was constitutionally valid.

Court’s Observations

The Court observed that the Rules framed under the IT Act require every organisation to designate one of its officers as a Nodal Officer. Such Nodal Officer can refer to a Designated Officer, who at the receipt of such request shall block any information wholly or partly at the direction by a competent court. The Court observed that the Nodal Officer might proceed with the investigation as required by the petitioner.

The Court further observed that there is an increasing trend to misuse the liberty of free speech in the country. The freedom provided under Article 19(1)(a) guaranteed to the citizens must be exercised judiciously for fair and constructive criticism and to preserve the promises outlined in the preamble. However, the exercise of the aforesaid right must not go against the national interest and the interest of the society at large. It must not insult any group or community jeopardising public order. In light of the aforesaid, it is time for the state to introduce stricter norms that satisfy the test of reasonableness in the exercise of the power conferred under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.

Court’s Decision

The Court refrained from making any directions to the private respondents concerning the deletion of the objectionable content. However, it was open to the individual respondents to regulate the content as would be desirable for the public policy of India and the integrity of the state. The Court also rejected the plea to direct the police to take preventive action as they had no prior knowledge of the alleged criminal intention. The Court declined the prayers put forth by the Petitioners’ and disposed of the case.


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