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This article has been written by Dharmender Pandey, pursuing the Certificate Course in Advanced Civil Litigation: Practice, Procedure and Drafting from LawSikho. This article has been edited by Prashant Baviskar (Associate, Lawsikho), and Ruchika Mohapatra (Associate, Lawsikho).  

Introduction

The article “Allegation on public figures needs to have due diligence before putting it on public platforms” is the need of the hour in the information age. In earlier times, any news took some time to spread among the general people, and the response time to tackle such things was comparatively more in those days. But in the present time, due to the large involvement of the general public on social media or any public platform and lack of strict rules and regulations related to do’s and don’ts or we can say the general awareness about it in the general public leads to such a situation that it is very easy for anyone to allege others. This situation is aggravated even more if that person is a public figure in any walk of life because their public following is much more than the average person. 

In this article, we will learn the basic rules that must be followed while using any public platform or any social media. We will also learn what due diligence must be followed while posting anything that is an allegation against a public figure on social media or any public platform. 

Due diligence and social media

Due diligence must be very strictly followed before alleging any public figure on any public platform because the consequences are more dangerous if that allegation gives rise to unintended consequences. Rules made by various authorities to control these nuisances are often met by some groups of people with the statement that the authorities are against their right to freedom of speech and expression as provided by Article 19 (1) (a) in the Indian Constitution. However, one needs to remember that the right to freedom of speech and expression is not absolute and it comes with some reasonable restrictions. Protection of the reputation of all its citizens is also the duty of the state and this reasonable restriction comes under that category. Any allegation made by someone against another person or organisation which is made without taking due diligence and which is not true is an open invitation to the liability under the laws of defamation in the purview of Tort law. 

Issues involved

This article focuses on the very burning issue of “What due diligence one should follow before alleging any Public figure” in the information age. Due diligence is the precautionary measure which one should take before any type of publication at any public platform or social media because whatever is published on the internet, its digital footprint is always available even if we delete it after publication. 

In earlier days, most of the people came to know about any news from the newspapers, magazines or televisions and it took more time than it does today for such news to travel. As we all know that nowadays almost everyone has access to the internet through their smartphones and various other gadgets, it is very easy for anyone to express their views about any event or react to others’ opinions on the internet through various types of public platforms. It has been observed that most of us write anything without understanding its impact on others’ images. Most of us forget that this opportunity also comes with a duty to follow some do’s and don’ts while being on any public platform. This duty also increases many folds when we make any allegation on a public figure due to his large public following and curiosity of the people knowing every minute details of their favourite personality. So it is most important that all the precautions that we all must follow while alleging or reacting to any public figure on any of the public platforms or social media are to be taken seriously and without fail. 

Precautions while alleging any public figure

Because it is very easy to allege anyone on social media, it does not mean that we have the freedom to allege someone before establishing the facts with the help of reliable sources and if no such sources exist, then at least confirm the case with the person we seek to allege. This duty of establishing the fact with reliable sources or checking it in person is most required in the case of alleging any public figure. Any untoward allegation may cast a deadly blow to the reputation of the public figure and even if the allegation which one made stands wrong later or is found to be not substantive, the damage to the reputation would have been done. The general public following of the public figure on these public platforms and social media is much more than any ordinary person. To avoid embarrassment later, we all must follow the following precautions while alleging any public figure:

  1. Always be aware of what you are writing or speaking.
  2. Always try to be crystal clear in meaning what you have to say and avoid any ambiguity.
  3. Always write what you can prove.
  4. Along with verified  factual allegations try to use verifiable opinions.
  5. Always make sure that the opinion must be based on facts.
  6. Always act ethically.
  7. Always be aware of the privilege of defence.
  8. Always take care of whom you are dealing with.

Consequences of alleging any public figure without due diligence

In this information age, while using various types of social media platforms we must be very cautious. We must be very cautious while commenting on any of the public figures at any public platform or public space. We must take all the precautions because in any case our allegations are not based on the facts and we are not able to prove what we have alleged them of, we might end up in troubled waters. The public figure/person whom we alleged can file a suit for defamation and can seek heavy compensation. The consequences of alleging any public figure without taking due diligence can lead to the following:

• Legal consequences,

• Financial consequences.

Legal consequences

If the person against whom the allegation has been made and thinks it hurts his image and reputation in the eye of other people in the society and the eyes of the general public, he has the option to go to the court and get the remedies available both in the civil and criminal proceeding because the defamation comes under civil as well as in criminal wrongs. 

In a very recent case in Mumbai, a lawyer, Mr. Dhrutiman Joshi, has filed a complaint before the Metropolitan Magistrate at Kurla to initiate defamation proceedings against Mr. Javed Akhtarfor ‘RSS-Taliban’ comment.

In one of the first cyber defamation cases, SMC Pneumatics (India) Pvt Ltd. v.  Jogesh Kwatra Delhi High Court granted ex-parte ad interim injunction restraining the defendant employee from defaming the petitioner physically and in cyberspace both.

In the case of Swami Ramdev & Anr v. Facebook Inc & Ors,  Justice Pratibha Singh had passed an order to remove all the defamatory contents posted against Yoga guru Swami Ramdev without any territorial jurisdiction. 

Financial consequences

The aggrieved person is entitled to the recovery of the financial losses and damages which are the result of the false allegations. As we are very well aware,  the public figure will claim a very huge amount for his losses because it is much more harmful to a man of his reputation to have his brand/image damaged as opposed to the same being done for a commoner.

In M/s Spentex Industries Ltd. & Anr. v. Pulak Chowdhary, the petitioner had filed a petition against the defendant who had sent defamatory emails to international finance corporation and others which caused loss of reputation and business in which she had prayed for compulsory and prohibitory injunctions with recoveries of Rupees 5,00,00,000 as damages. Delhi District Court decreed that the plaintiff be awarded 1/10th of the damages (Rupees 5,00,000) as well as the cost of the suit to be borne by the defendant. The court further restrained defendants from making false and defamatory statements whether written or oral.    

Conclusion

In the era of the information age, social media and public platforms are like “Double-edged swords.” The user of the so-called “Double-edged swords” must be very well acquainted with both of its sides before its use otherwise it has the potential to cause more harm than profits. The users of these platforms must know what are the do’s and don’ts of social media etiquettes before starting to use them, otherwise, they may commit some irreparable mistake. 

There is a very famous phrase that says that “With great power comes great responsibility”. In the same manner, social media and public platforms give us ample power to express our speech and expression but we must always keep in our minds that it also brings great responsibility to be more cautious while using such platforms. 

We must not allege anyone without due diligence and we must be more careful and follow strict due diligence when we are alleging any public figure because it will amount to the heavy cost and legal consequences if we are unable to prove the allegation if contested by the other party. The remedies are available in the form of do’s and don’ts. It only needs that all of the users of such platforms are aware of and strictly follow them to make these places more conducive for all.  

References

https://www.legalserviceindia.com/

https://www.mondaq.com/

https://ili.ac.in/pdf/paper10.pdf

https://lexlife.in/2020/05/03/defamation-law-in-india/

https://ssrana.in

https://blog.ipleaders.in/defamation-section-499-to-502-of-ipc/


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