The Madras High Court recently said that the social media presence of an accused in a defamation case including aspects like follower count, social media views etc are relevant considerations while deciding interlocutory applications including applications for deletion of posts, tweets and videos [V Senthil Balaji v Nirmal Kumar].
Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy made the observation while temporarily restraining Nirmal Kumar, former State President of the BJP's IT wing, from making unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against DMK minister Senthil Balaji.
The Court noted that Kumar had 83,800 Twitter followers and his posts were viewed and shared by a large number of people.
"In my view, the speed and frequency with which messages can be disseminated to users of social media platforms and the interactive nature of these platforms would be a material consideration especially for the purpose of deciding interlocutory applications, including applications for deletion of the tweets and the video," the High Court said.
The judge, however, clarified that this injunction will not stand in Kumar's way of making any new allegations against Balaji as long as such allegations are backed by facts or evidence.
While passing the order, Justice Ramamoorthy analysed what constitutes actual malice or a reckless disregard for truth.
The Court examined all of the 17 tweets posted by Kumar in 2022 that Balaji had claimed were defamatory. It also went through the contested Youtube videos posted by Kumar.
It concluded that of these, six tweets were "per se defamatory," while the rest pertained strictly to allegations on the Minister's public functions and were based on published news reports, statistics etc. The six defamatory tweets, the High Court said, had been made with complete disregard for truth.
"In my view, the contours of 'reckless disregard for the truth' would encompass all defamatory statements made without being concerned as to whether such statements are true or false, such as where such statements were made without any verification," Justice Ramamoorthy said.
He directed Kumar to delete the six tweets and one defamatory Youtube video.
The Court further said that while it was not possible to definitely determine actual malice at an interlocutory stage, the said posts were likely to cause "significant damage" to Balaji's reputation until final disposal of the defamation suit filed him.
Senior Counsel P Wilson and SM Krishnan, and advocate Richardson Wilson appeared for Balaji.
Senior Counsel Yashod Vardhan appeared for Kumar.