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Andhra Pradesh High Court orders ‘judge bashing’ social media content to be removed

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube were ordered to take down posts in an Andhra Pradesh contempt case.

Court Judiciary

“Absence of pre-screening and control of the intermediaries enable the users to successfully upload any material. In this process, fake, harmful, even hate speeches are uploaded,” the Andhra Pradesh High Court said while ordering content takedowns across four major social media platforms on November 1, according to LiveLaw. “Judge Bashing” and using derogatory and contemptuous language against judges has become a favourite pass time of some people,” the court added.

The suo moto contempt proceedings that the court had reportedly initiated last year against 49 individuals, involves an MP and MLA from the YSRCP party along with other supporters of the party. The court has now directed Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube to take down multiple posts as well as block a YouTube channel called ‘Panch Prabhakar’ for criticising its judges.

This is not the first time that a takedown order has been issued by a court to social media platforms in contempt proceedings. However, the issue does distinguish itself by the number of individuals the proceedings were initiated against and that an entire YouTube channel has been ordered to be blocked. MediaNama could not access the channel at the time of publishing this report.

The case, in brief

According to the Times of India, the High Court took up the matter in May 2020, after it received several mails and found several posts on social media with videos attributing “motives, caste bias and corruption allegations” against judges of the Supreme Court and the AP High Court for their orders on several PILs. The posts contained “abusive, life threatening and intimidating words against the judges”

During the hearing on November 1, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) revealed that, although it had filed an FIR against 16 persons, due to ‘laches’ on the part of the intermediaries, there was little progress on the case. CBI also revealed that it has sent Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) request to the Ministry of Home Affairs on the matter. MLAT is a treaty India is party to for cross-border information sharing.

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The CBI was also ordered by the court to have the violating content removed but advocate Sajjan Poovayya, representing all four platforms at the hearing, said that the platforms need the URLs of the content in order to do so.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) on November 1 released a sample format for sending content takedown orders, which listed content URLs as one of the components.

Related: Summary of IT Rules clarifications from the government and some comments from us

What do the IT rules say about content takedowns

According to the set of Frequently Asked Questions on the IT Rules released by MeitY last week, orders for content takedowns should contain –

1. The platform specific identified URL(s)
2. The law being administered by the authorised agency
3. The specific clause of the law being violated
4. Justification and evidence; and
5. Any other information (e.g. time stamp in case of audio/ video etc.)

The IT Rules, 2021 lay down that intermediaries will ‘not host, store, or publish’ any unlawful content upon being notified about it by a court or any other government agency, including content related to contempt of court.

Other cases of online content leading to contempt proceedings

August 2020: The Supreme Court of India had directed Twitter to restrict tweets by lawyer Prashant Bhushan after he was found guilty of contempt of court.

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December 2020: Notices were issued by the Supreme Court to cartoonist Rachita Taneja and comedian Kunal Kamra for their tweets, on grounds of contempt of court.

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Written By

I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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