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Users’ privacy settings hurdle for cyber police while issuing online notices

While the police have sent 120 notices as of May 21, some 30 could not be delivered due to the user’s privacy settings causing the messages to bounce. But the police said in 90 cases, where a notice was delivered, 30 had taken down defamatory content.

Written by Mohamed Thaver | Mumbai | Published: June 4, 2020 12:12:15 am
Users’ privacy settings hurdle for cyber police while issuing online notices “A lot of people who put up controversial content do not put up their real names or deliberately upload incorrect details. Hence, there is no way to physically track them,” the official said.

CLOSE TO two weeks after the state cyber police started sending online notices to those allegedly putting up defamatory and communal content on social media, the results of the experiment are mixed.

This is the first time the police are suo motu taking note of defamatory and communal content online. Before this, the practice was to file an FIR on the basis of a complaint against such content. Last year, for example, the Mumbai Police filed an FIR against some TikTok users after Shiv Sena worker Ramesh Solanki approached police alleging that the video they had posted about a lynching in Jharkhand was communal in nature.

While the police have sent 120 notices as of May 21, some 30 could not be delivered due t the user’s privacy settings causing the messages to bounce. But the police said in 90 cases, where a notice was delivered, 30 had taken down defamatory content.

Inspector General (Cyber) Yashasvi Yadav said, “In some cases, due to privacy settings of users, the notice was not delivered and bounced. We are, however, looking at an alternate way of making the user aware that posting such content could land them in trouble.”

Yadav had said the need to send these notices was felt after they found a spike in communal and defamatory content on social media platforms.

An officer from the cyber police said one of the main reasons they chose to send the notices was that several of these accounts did not show a physical location. The Indian Express accessed some of the accounts that received these notices. A majority has uploaded generic photos and only one of the six accounts had the address of a user in Pathankot. In three of the six cases, the user had put up communal content.

“A lot of people who put up controversial content do not put up their real names or deliberately upload incorrect details. Hence, there is no way to physically track them,” the official said.

Police said when there was a spike in defamatory content on social media that could have led to a law and order situation during the lockdown, a decision was made to start sending notices on the platform itself. Six accounts that received the notices were on Facebook, sent through Messenger.

“While it is true that in some cases, because of privacy settings, the notice was not delivered, in several cases of those who received the notice instantly took down defamatory content. Of the 90 cases, where notices were delivered, 30 of them instantly took down the post. In some cases, users also deleted their accounts. If any of the 60, who have not deleted the post, puts up another similar one, an FIR will be filed,” an official said.

The notice that is send to users states, “We have observed that certain users are using social media platforms for posting offensive/abusive/defamatory/malicious posts. Maharashtra Cyber Police Department… is issuing a notice under Section 149 of the CrPC to all such users posting offensive messages to refrain from doing so as it is an offence under the Information Technology Act.”

The notice further reads, “Any user found violating provisions of the said laws will have to face strict penal action. We will be issuing separate notices individually, to users posting offensive messages in their inboxes.”

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