Getting into trouble online – legal repercussions of online posts

By Bryan Boo

In this day and age, it is without a doubt that technology has permeated into almost every aspect of our lives. In fact, it is not uncommon for people to air their grievances on social media. It is, however, quite worrying that there are some who post their grievances, anger and frustration on social media without understanding or even thinking about the repercussions of their post – particularly if the post has been exaggerated, inflated, or inaccurate. This article will discuss the legal repercussions from such inaccurate online post.

Civil Defamation

If the content of the online post was false and affects the reputation of a particular individual, that individual may initiate a civil suit against the poster (the person who published or posted that particular online post). Should the affected individual decide to initiate a civil suit against the poster for defamation (more specifically, libel), there are a number of elements that the Plaintiff in a defamation suit will have to prove:

  1. There is a defamatory statement made or conveyed in writing or printed or in some other permanent form;
  2. The defamatory statement is regarding the Plaintiff; and
  3. The defamatory statement is published to a person other than the Plaintiff (in an online posting, it would arguably be to the world at large)

It must be noted that there is no need for the Plaintiff to be expressly named and/or identified. All that is required is that the Plaintiff is identifiable. The post also need not be explicit. So long as the contents of that post suggest or hint something defamatory, defamation may still be found.

Defamation under the Penal Code

A defamatory post may also be a criminal offence. Section 499 of the Penal Code reads :

Defamation

499. Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs, or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person, intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm the reputation and shall also be liable to fine of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter excepted, to defame that person.

Section 499 goes on to list numerous illustrations of exceptions to Section 499 of the Penal Code. Anyone found guilty of defamation under Section 499 of the Penal Code shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both.

Crime under the Communications & Multimedia Act 1998

The poster might also get into trouble under Section 233 of the Communications & Multimedia Act 1998. Section 233 reads:

Improper use of network facilities or network service, etc.

233. (1) A person who—
    (a) by means of any network facilities or network service or applications service knowingly—
      (i) makes, creates or solicits; and
      (ii) initiates the transmission of,
any comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person; or

    (b) initiates a communication using any applications service, whether continuously, repeatedly or otherwise, during which communication may or may not ensue, with or without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person at any number or electronic address,

   commits an offence.


Section 233 therefore provides that the posting of such defamatory, indecent, false, menacing or offensive post with the intention to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person is a criminal offence that is punishable by a fine not exceeding RM 50,000.00 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to both and shall also be liable to a further fine of RM 1,000.00 for every day during which the offence is continued after conviction.

Conclusion

While it is easy to rant online and put on our social media a post detailing our frustrations and anger, it is advisable to always take a step back and think it through before pressing on the “Post” button. The prudent advice to not speak when angry applies the same to posting statuses or updates on social media – you may get into trouble with the law.

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