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Internet Trolling in the Eyes of Law: The Emergence of Legal Framework

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Internet bullying, or cyber trolling, refers to an offensive or provocative post about someone with the intent of upsetting them. Internet trolling is usually carried out through social media, i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. It is usually done as a medium of sadistic amusement in virtual media. Recently, it has become very popular, as well as concerning, on social communication sites.

Trolling may result in several cyber offences, depending on its nature and profile among reasonable netizens. It may amount to defamation, communal instigation, sexual harassment, etc. An illustration may be given when a public figure is depicted with obscene rumours about his personal life, which he can accuse of defamation.

Though there are no specific enactments regarding internet trolls, The Cyber Securities Act,2023,  by and large protects cyber users from such. Section 29 of the Act provides that if any person publishes or disseminates defamatory information as described in Section 499 of the Penal Code (Act No. XLV of 1860) on a website or in any other electronic format, such act of such person shall be an offence, and he shall be liable to a fine not exceeding 25 (twenty-five) lakhs of taka. Section 31(1) of the Act penalises if any person intentionally publishes or broadcasts on the website or in digital format anything that creates enmity, hatred, or hatred between the various classes or communities concerned, destroys communal harmony, creates unrest, disorder, or deterioration of law and order, with imprisonment for a term not exceeding five (five) years, a fine not exceeding twenty-five lakhs, or both. Section 24 penalises with 5 years imprisonment or 5 lac Tk fine who fraudulently impersonate other with a view to injure that other. There are worries about how cybersecurity laws may affect free speech as they are being applied in different ways to stop online trolling.

Concerns regarding the influence on free speech are raised by the different ways that cybersecurity laws are being used to combat internet trolling.  Article 39 of “The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh” safeguards freedom of speech and conscience. It ensures people’s right to exercise reasonable criticism. However, anti-tromping measures like the Cyber Securities Act constrict the right to a greater extent. Some argue that anti-troll measures are nothing more than a powerful tool to restrict their critiques.  Meanwhile, others argue that freedom of speech shouldn’t be this unfettered so as to violate other’s privacy. The second argument seems to fit better. There shouldn’t be any such freedom that violates other’s esteem and reverence. Of course, the act only concerns false propaganda, not any reasonable pseudonyms or constructive critique. Transparent community guidelines to make users aware of parameters to be bound are essential for social media. Minimum space for entertainment should be left, but that mustn’t cross boundaries.

As amusing as trolling may seem, its victims suffer socially, psychologically, and financially as a result of it.  Victims often get attacked by anxiety, depression, and fear. It can lead to stress and emotional instability. Consecutive confrontations with offensive comments and personal attacks can severely damage a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. In severe cases, victims may face mental disorders such as traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially if contents include threats of violence or prolonged harassment. The strain and mental toll that trolling content takes might make it difficult for victims to sustain intimate relationships with their offline contacts. A victim’s reputation and image can be damaged by offensive and indecent trolling, basically when they are misleading or harmful. When one faces trolling in the professional sector and it negatively affects someone’s capacity to do their job, it has a severe negative impact on relationships with colleagues and future career opportunities.

Articles 15, 18, and 32 of the Bangladesh’s Constitution provide social security, public health, and the right to life with dignity, implicitly defend the right to mental health. In Bangladesh, the Mental Health Act of 2018 offers a framework for enhancing and defending people’s mental health while guaranteeing compassionate care and defending their rights. This Act is especially pertinent to internet trolling since it can be used to address the negative effects that online abuse has on mental health.

The Cyber Security Act isn’t meeting the demand for a new comprehensive act regarding internet trolling. Consideration can be taken from the Communication Decency Act, 1996 (CDA) of the United States. The CDA was enacted with a view to protecting children from internet pornography. It criminalises the transmission of any message or obscene material when it’s regarded as offensive to community standards. However, Section 30 of the Act provides immunity to the medium in which the content is posted. We need a transparent law that can increase the accountability of every party and reduce the probability of offence. Currently, there are no such provisions that make social media liable to the sender of contents. Such provisions can be added to make the media through which such content will be posted liable. The Malicious Communications Act 1988” is a British Act of Parliament that makes it illegal in England and Wales to “send or deliver letters or other articles for the purpose of causing distress or anxiety.” It also applies to electronic communications.

An introduction to a new law for penalising those who cause distress and anxiety can be fruitful to prevent harmful  internet trolling, or the inclusion of adequate provisions in the current Mental Health Act could be a revolutionary step.

Every user of the internet ought to exercise caution when it comes to online behaviour. People should take care not to aggravate the trolls. In such cases, the best strategy is to ignore trolls at the personal communication level. Online media businesses can help solve the problem by enforcing stronger standards for online discussion and social media. Finally, in addition to thinking about how to alter trolls, we should consider methods to modify our society so that there are fewer provocations and more enjoyable topics to debate.

About Writer:

Fahim Uddin Raihan is the former Vice-President (Partnership) of the NILS CU Chapter. He is currently the Moot Coach for the 4th NILS CU Intra Moot Court Competition and is pursuing an LL.M at the Department of Law, University of Chittagong. He regularly contributes to national dailies and blogs on various contemporary legal issues. His research interests include environmental law, constitutional law, socio-legal issues, and human rights.

 

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