Social media channel handler ought to be made accountable, says HC
Owing to the expanse of the material published on social media any misinformation thereupon has an effect of ruining reputation of any person within hours, an HC bench said while dismissing the anticipatory bail plea of a woman social media journalist from Gurdaspur
Social media channel owner not only needs to be more responsible but has to be made accountable, the Punjab and Haryana high court said while denying protection from arrest to a Punjab resident running one such channel.
“Owing to the expanse of the material published on social media any misinformation thereupon has an effect of ruining reputation of any person within hours,” the bench of Justice Pankaj Jain said while dismissing the anticipatory bail plea of a woman social media journalist from Gurdaspur.
An FIR was registered against Narinder Kaur following the allegations of extortion, criminal intimidation and criminal conspiracy by the Batala police on August 4.
The charges were that the woman and the co-accused were running a YouTube news channel and on July 3, an alleged fake news story about an NIA raid at the hospital of the complainant was flashed.
“Fake photographs were posted with an intent to blackmail the complainant and extort money. It has been alleged that the petitioner along with co-accused raised an illegal demand of ₹1 lakh to stop the said news,” the complaint read.
The woman social media journalist had argued that the news about the raid was published in newspapers too.
It is only the petitioner who has been singled out and the present case has been registered, it was submitted.
The state’s counsel and complainant’s lawyer had told the court that it is not merely a case of fake news, but blackmailing and extortion too. The accused are threatening the complainant and thus, the custodial interrogation of the petitioner is required for further interrogation, the court was told.
During the probe, the WhatsApp chats between the accused and co-accused also went on to show that in fact it is a racket wherein they are running fake news channels and blackmailing the persons concerned, the court was informed.
The bench of Justice Jain invoked a statement from the World Health Organization released during the outbreak of Covid on misinformation about the epidemic that said, “We are not fighting an epidemic, we are also fighting an infodemic.”
“When such misinformation is spread with an intention to extort money, it is a cause of serious concern. Social media, including YouTube, has a wide coverage. Any fact published thereupon has an effect on the public at large,” the bench observed, adding that the material published can ruin reputation of any person within hours.
“..the publisher on social media not only needs to be more responsible but has to be made accountable. While the society is grappling to regulate the material on social media, the persons like petitioner indulging in blackmailing and extorting money pose serious threat to the society at large,” Justice Jain said, adding that in the case in hand, allegations are not merely of publication of fake news but that of blackmailing and demanding extortion money.
“Keeping in view the seriousness of the allegations and the far-reaching ramifications of the action of the accused, no ground for pre-arrest bail is made out,” the bench said while dismissing the plea.