Internet Humour and Crime : A Struggle Between Freedom and Offence

Abstract

The internet is one of the most used and innovative additions in the lives of people in this modern world. With the arrival of social media, the internet took socialising to a whole new level because initially it became the medium of sharing thoughts and soon grew into a medium of official communication between people and people, government and government and government and people. With all sorts of information on the social media, humour is one of the biggest user-generated and shared content. The internet brought the expression of humour in the form of satire, sarcasm, and wit with social media posts on the fingertips and memes all over the place, bringing out the dark sense of humour hidden in people as well. Getting in trouble for humour isn’t new, but with the vast reach of the internet, people posting from one corner of the country and someone getting immediately offended from another corner of the country has become common. This opens room for debate on the questions like ‘How can someone be arrested for a joke?’, ‘How can a joke be criminal?’, ‘Should law take social media seriously?’, ‘Is arresting for a social media post a violation of free speech?’ and ‘Do we really need laws to monitor everything on social media?’

The present elaborated discussion is a study of various cases in India related to humour and social media and observes how humour is used as a tool to commit crimes, and how laws are used against them, reasonably and unreasonably. It also observes the nature of people over the internet and how it affects their real lives. It also studies the laws present in India to analyse what the country requires in order to prevent the misuse of both, the laws and the social media, and in the end, concludes with a suggestion of separate Media Law and why it is necessary.

INTRODUCTION

Humour is to speech what salt is to food”.1

The internet is “a cooperative message-forwarding system linking computer networks all over the world”.2 The rise of the internet has given a new platform to the people and has grown enough to become a part of reality. From a common citizen’s social media profile to official government notifications being released on websites, with the passage of time, the internet not only remains a source of information and education, but also of global trade & commerce, of personal and professional connection, and of charity & crime.

The swiftness with which the internet has integrated into the lives of people, it would not be wrong to state that it is now an extension of their own personality. Due to the degree of anonymity and vast reach it provides, it brings out the untamed selves of people, which can be closely associated with what Sigmund Freud referred to as the Id,3 making the internet the “Wild West”.4 “Researchers assume that analysis of comic texts provides us with important insights about what is lurking in the social mind behind the façade of platitudes, conventions, and political correctness”.5 One of the basic reasons behind this is that, over the internet, there exists a very low chance of face to face backlash. Even though countries across the world have taken steps to counter it,6 a complete success in preventing Cybercrime is nowhere in sight.

Along with all types of content, the internet has now also become a platform for sharing humour in an electronic form, which can be done in the form of texts, images, videos or other formats. “Rather than light-hearted entertainment, jokes are in fact important arenas in which sensitive and troubling issues are processed and negotiated”.7 Sigmund Freud happens to be the most important authority on jokes and he called them “a combination of [comic] technique and [humorous] thought”.8 Another popular term on the internet in terms of humour is ‘Memes’. The term meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in his book ‘The Selfish Gene’. The Oxford Dictionary defines meme as “An element of a culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, especially, imitation”.9 The term is basically associated with pictorial or video jokes, perhaps because they (as a form of presentation of humour or idea), grew on the internet the most, where they spread, most of the times as a trend, through immediate sharing or imitation.

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Note: This Article was first published in RMLNLU CMET Law Journal 6 CMET (2019) 77.  The extract has been reproduced with the kind permission of RMLNLU.

* Student, BA LLB (Hons), KIIT School of Law Bhubaneswar, Odisha.

1 ‘Political Satire in Modern India’ (The Hindu, 6 April 2018) <https : //thehindu.com/thehindu/lr/2003/04/06/stories/2003040600010100.htm.> accessed 14 January 2019.

2 Douglas A Downing and others, Dictionary of Computer and Internet Terms (10th edn, Barron’s Educational Series Inc US 2009) 256.

3 Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id (first Published 1923, Courier Dover Publication 2018) 8.

4 Megan Carpentier, ‘Online Abuse : How Different Countries Deal with It’ (The Guardian, 12 April 2016) <https : //theguardian.com/technology/2016/apr/12/online-abuse-how-harrassment-revenge-pornography-different-countries-deal-with-it.> accessed 15 January 2019.

5 Limor Shifman and Dafna Lemish, ‘“Mars and Venus” in Virtual Space : Post-feminist Humor and the Internet’ (2011) 28 (3) Critical Studies in Media Law 253, 254.

6 The Guardian (n 257).

One comment

  • The Principle of non-violence is required to be inculcated in the society right from the childhood. The Principle of non-violence as understood in the Indian culture is to avoid not only physical but causing any mental injuries. Framing of laws is not a panacea. In fact the Courts are flooded with cases only because the implementing authorities do not properly interpret the law or deliberately ignore the main objects or the mischief which the law does intend to plug in. Too many laws result in flaws.
    Author needs to be complimented for summarising the law.

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