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State has to wake up and enact law to curb social media wars: Kerala High Court [Read Order]

"The verbal fight in social media is increasing. There is no end to it. This is a situation where the rule of law will fail. The parallel societies who are not concerned about the rule of law will emerge", the Court said

Meera Emmanuel

The Kerala High Court on Monday emphasised that it was high time that the State "wakes up" to introduce a law to curb the rise of "social media wars" and the rise of intolerance and objectionable content on online platforms.

While allowing a plea for bail in a case registered over allegedly objectionable content during an online segment conducted by Namo TV news anchor Sreeja Prasad last month, Justice PV Kunhikrishan observed,

"The verbal fight in social media is increasing. If one person post a defamatory or lascivious comment in the social media, instead of approaching the police, the others will respond to the same with more vulgar words. There is no end to it. This is a situation where the rule of law will fail. The parallel societies who are not concerned about the rule of law will emerge. This is a grave situation. "
Kerala High Court

The Court noted that in an earlier ruling, Sreekumar v. State of Kerala, the High Court had already made critical note that the instances of intolerance and disrespect for the views of others has exponentially increased due to the exclusive and addictive use of social media in our current times.

On Monday, Justice Kunhikrisnan observed that even after this judgment, "the social media fight is continuing." As such, the High Court emphasised,

"... the State has to wake up and legislate appropriate enactments to curtail the social media war. It is the duty of the State to maintain the public order. Moreover, as per the existing penal law itself, such culprits can be booked, for which state police should be vigilant."
Kerala High Court

With these observations, the Court has directed that a copy of the order be forwarded to the Director General of Police and the Chief Secretary of the Kerala Government for taking appropriate action in accordance to law

Last month, Prasad had hit back at disparaging online comments made against her online by various individuals with respect to another post uploaded by Namo TV.

The comments made by Prasad during this segment prompted the registration of a case citing offences of Section 294(b), IPC (obscenity), Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (penality for publication of obscene material) and Section 120(o) of the Kerala Police Act.

While seeking bail in this case, Prasad submitted through her counsel that she had regretted making some of the statements over which the case had been registered. Further, the bail applicant told the Court that the comments were prompted because of the tension following abuse and sexual language used against her online by different people on social media.

On a perusal of the segment's transcript, the Court on Monday observed that "It is a fact that, it is extremely unparliamentary and it cannot be extracted in a judicial order."

While aimed at her online detractors, the text in question, an extract of which was reproduced in the Court order, involved lewd undertones and a derogatory comment against the Arab community.

The Judge, in turn, did not examine whether an offence has been made out to attract Section 67 of the IT Act, and left it to be determined by the investigating police. The order notes,

"Some of the words ... has no corresponding words in English. Some of the words are abusive and unprintable in a judicial order. But these are matters to be investigated by the police.

Bail was granted given that:

  • The Supreme Court had already directed that bail applications be viewed liberally amid the COVID-19 pandemic for offences whether the penalty is less than 7 years.

  • The petitioner is only an anchor of the online news channel.

  • The petitioner is a lady and there is no criminal antecedents against the petitioner.

  • The grant of bail is the rule and refusal is the exception so as to ensure that the accused has the opportunity of securing fair hearing.

Read the order:

Sreeja Prasad v State of Kerala.pdf
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