"The freedom that social media offers cannot be exploited to do online baiting such as in the instant case wherein the de facto complainant is being branded as ‘sexually promiscuous’."
The High Court of Kerala has recently observed that the platform of social media cannot be exploited to do online baiting.
Justice Raja Vijayraghavan has made the observations while dismissing a plea for anticipatory bail to an accused politician who is facing accusations of having committed offences under Section 354(A)(3) of the IPC, Section 67A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and under Section 120 of the Kerala Police Act, 2011.
The applicant belongs to the youth wing of a prominent political party of the state. The de facto complainant is stated to be a social activist and wife of a Member of Parliament. The de facto complainant had recently published a book wherein she had levelled allegations of sexual misbehaviour towards her by a leader of youth wing in a political party. The de facto complainant states that thereafter certain accused had posted several photos of herself and her husband on Facebook with scurrilous comments—most of them with sexually explicit content, against her.
The allegation imputed against the applicant herein was that he had tagged and shared the posts of some of the accused. These posts, it is said, have been liked, tagged and shared by many, including other accused.
The applicant sought to justify his action on two counts. On the first count, he stated that the revelation made by the victim in her book regarding sexual abuse against her garnered much attention in the online and print media. The applicant, who uses Facebook, had participated in such discussions, wherein the alleged comments were made. On the second count, it was canvassed that S.67 A of the IT Act would not be attracted.
Repelling the contention of the applicant on the first count, Justice Raja Vijayaraghavan observed that the attempts made by the applicant amounted to online sexual abuse and harassment of the victim. The court opined:
"The messages, which have either been liked, tagged, or posted by the applicant have overtones of the subject raping young men, immorality, masturbation, and promiscuous sexual behaviour. The photographs of the de facto complainant, her husband etc., are also peppered in those pages. There cannot be any doubt that the target is the de facto complainant and no one else. The applicant had no business to throw muck and abuse at a woman online. After going through the posts which were made available, I am inclined to hold that the de facto complainant has been subjected to gross online sexual harassment."
Coming down heavily on the negative impact and effect of the posts made by the applicant, Justice Raja further said:
"The method adopted by the applicant and others clearly fall within what is called in these ages as cyberbullying, cybersexism, or cyber misogyny. There is evidently discriminatory and abusive behaviour towards the de facto complainant apparently due to her political leanings. In the virtual world of social media, people feel that they are free to send insulting or abusive messages to others. Though the strength of social media has always been to easily connect with friends and groups, it can also be subjected to gross abuse.”
Regarding the challenge on second count whether offence under S.67 A of the IT Act will be attracted, the court relegated the same to be considered by the investigating officer during the course of investigation.
Based on the above-given facts and circumstances of the case, the court hence dismissed the plea of anticipatory bail by the applicant.