OBSERVING THAT social media encourages people to post unsubstantiated content, the Delhi High Court on Tuesday, in yet another order, restrained a Twitter user from posting or sharing anything defamatory, derogatory and deprecatory against edtech firm WhiteHat Jr, its management and its employees, and asked him to take down certain existing tweets criticising the company.
The Byju’s-owned company, which provides online coding classes to children, has this week taken two social media users – an engineer and a doctor – to court for posting allegedly defamatory content and running an “unsubstantiated narrative” against it and the curriculum being offered by it to the children.
On Monday, the court had passed a limited ad interim injunction against Pradeep Poonia, an IITian, and asked him to take down certain tweets and videos posted on YouTube.
Hearing WhatHat Jr’s suit against Mumbai-based Aniruddha Malpani, whose website says he is the founder of an angel investment firm, Justice Mukta Gupta on Tuesday observed that everyone has started making “unsubstantiated” assertions – when somebody puts out a post, the other person thinks what has been stated in that post is a “gospel truth” and without knowing them, feels the need to share it.
“I cannot get out of this fact that a person thinks he is doing right when he is posting [re-posting] somebody’s posts…not even knowing who is the person posting it, whether that person has a mala fide intention or whether that person has some adverse interest… and still claim that I am right. It is inconceivable,” the court said.
The court also said that a person can today create a “cacophony” by the number of people tweeting and retweeting the same thing which may have no basis. “It is happening day in and day out. I am responsible for my tweet, but when I tweet, I must say what I know as a fact, not what a third party knows. You don’t even know the person who is actually tweeting, putting it on a post… which you tweeted forward,” Justice Gupta observed in response to a submission that there were several complaints against WhiteHat on social media.
WhiteHat, represented by senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul and advocate Rajshekar Rao, had earlier submitted before the court that Malpani has invested in several start-ups, including one dealing in educational technology like Bibox, and posted disparaging tweets – such as one referring to Sameer Bajaj’s appointment as its global head of communications and external affairs as “appointing a spin doctor is like putting lipstick on a pig”. It also mentioned another social media post containing a representation showing its business model ending in a racket, and one accusing WhiteHat of hiring people with zero coding skills.
It was argued that such comments are not fair criticism, and that reputation is an equally a protected right.
Malpani, represented by advocate Yadunath Bhargavan, termed the suit an attempt to muzzle free speech and argued that every tweet has been taken out of context before the court. One of the reasons the company was being addressed in such a fashion, he argued, is for its claims to make children Elon Musk, engineer-industrialist and one of the world’s richest persons, and for using a campaign called ‘Wolf Gupta’, which shows a child as someone who could go on to earn crores. Malpani argued that a barrage of tweets were put out by people after those claims in the context of who is teaching the children.
In a similar case, the court had on Monday restrained Poonia from downloading the instructions and curriculum of WhiteHat and circulating it in public domain, and also prohibited him from hacking or accessing its system or internal communication system in an unauthorised manner and then displaying the conversation between its employees on YouTube. The court also asked him to not comment on the number of teachers employed by WhiteHat and their quality.
Poonia is accused by WhiteHat of hacking into its internal communication system, putting up videos to humiliate its teachers, and falsely claiming it to be a Ponzi scheme.
Observing that that a debate exists whether children should have such heavy bags and should attend so many online classes, the court on Monday observed there can be healthy discussions and took strong objections to Poonia’s comments calling WhiteHat’s teacher’s housewives in the context of their qualification and putting their phone numbers in public domain. “You can’t look down on housewives like this. There has to be a certain distinction between healthy discussions and personal attacks,” the court said.