Problem of Outrage Culture & Social Media Trials: Sushant Singh’s Case

    On June 14th, 2020 popular actor Sushant Singh Rajput passed away[1]. AIIMS reports that his cause of death was suicide[2]. Fans around the country mourned for his passing, and awareness of mental illness was on the rise, although the move itself was half baked. This newfound love for Sushant seemed a bit hypocritical. Furthermore, it puts the Bollywood audience in an untenable position. Sushant’s last movie Dil Bechara became an instant hit, furthering his position as the greatest actors of the current millennia.

    According to some, the mistreatment by the Bollywood Industry was the primary cause for his suicide. The said people were suspicious that nepotism and major studios played a profound role in Sushant’s blacklisting[3]. Bollywood’s questionable behavior has led the netizens to go on banshee mode and express their disgust and disappointment against the former. Celebrities like Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone, Rhea Chakraborty, and Sonam Kapoor became the scapegoats of the internet meat grinder, which could be understandable given their past[4].

    The thing about masses’ anger is that it has the potential to be misplaced and misused. Soon when the anger brought the attention of the media. Imagine a dog getting its ear straight in emergencies. And given the current reputation of the Indian Media, they started milking this case. Issues like the nexus of drugs and Bollywood gained popularity. It isn’t the only crack that started showing up. People on YouTube began to capitalize on Sushant’s death. One such example is Steve Huff whose “paranormal conversation with Sushant” generated views and subscribers. Others like Kangana Ranaut used Sushant’s death as her shield against her fight against Bollywood. However, it received polarised reception from her critics. Some say Kangana is just taking out personal frustration against Bollywood.

    Outrage Culture and Bhed Chaal Mentality

    In the beginning, the #JusticeForSSR cause was a well-intentioned movement on social media platforms where people were voicing out against Bollywood’s recent behavior. Unfortunately, even good intentions suffer from flawed executions. Soon the outrage culture would take place over this movement. Outrage culture is the lingua franca of the mob. This is what happens when the mob’s rage gets misplaced by the outside forces. The anger-hungry audience began its campaign of harassment against Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone, etc[5]. But the person at the forefront of this controversy was Rhea Chakraborty, the deceased actor’s girlfriend.

    The people believed that Rhea had a hand in Sushant’s death. Kangana Ranaut believes that Rhea was a “gold digger” and would ask Sushant for money. Furthermore they believe that Rhea has drug addiction. Furthermore, she somehow made Sushant addicted to drugs which might have led to his suicide. The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) summoned both Rhea and her brother[6] for the investigation to know more about the nexus of Sushant’s death and the drug use[7]. The NCB sent Rhea to 14-day custody[8] and the NCB arrested her brother[9].

    People often forget that everything goes south in a moment. This is when the outrage culture would take over the minds of the masses and make them follow like sheep. The influence of the media or someone famous is so deep-rooted that the netizens will do whatever they say[10]. In addition, sometimes it could lead to something regrettable. The mob started attacking Rhea and other celebrities by sending them death threats, rape threats, slurs, and other forms of harassment[11]. It goes to show how the mob would do anything in rage without any fear of repercussion[12]. In this case, they will push a person to the edge. At this point they won’t even listen to his/her story[13]. Any person who calls them out for their behavior will suffer the worst forms of Online harassment. Rhea didn’t only become a scapegoat however, she became  a “communist pariah” in the mob’s online McCarthyism. She and her family became the victims of online witch hunts, online lynching, and character assassination.The same tactic which the mob used was against Savjeet Singh of the Jasleen Kaur case[14]. A Facebook post falsely accusing him of sexual misconduct resulted in a campaign against him. Sarvjeet Singh would lose multiple jobs, his respect in society[15]. His mental health was affected by the legal proceedings. 

    The court acquitted him because the Facebook post lacks any credibility and evidence. The woman  didn’t even attend the proceedings. But if an innocent man was called “Dilli ka Darinda” by the media and the mob then it shows how pathetic outrage culture and bhed chaal mentality is.

    The mental health of a person can be affected by the outrage culture. There’s a possibility that a person might succumb to depression, anxiety, self-harm, and even suicide. One example of this is Hana Kimura, a Japanese wrestler who committed suicide after being continuously harassed online over an argument in a reality show.

    Social Media Trials

    When the judgments are made on social media platforms then it is known as social media trials. Social media trials have become an obstacle in legal proceedings. An example of this is Uma Kurana, a teacher in a Delhi School who became the victim of the lynching by the mob after being accused of allegedly forcing her students to have sexual intercourse despite lack of evidence. 

    Social Media Trials are surrounded by layers of fake news, trolling, toxic gossip, threats, etc. It became so hegemonic that playing the role of a judge, jury, and executioner falls under social media. It contradicts the constitutional provision. A person has a right to a fair trial and a right to a fair trial is absolute. Their provisions are given in Articles 14, 19, 20, 21, and 22. Article 19 (1) of the Constitution provides the right to freedom of speech, at the same time Article 19(2) provides reasonable restrictions so that India’s position does not get compromised. Unfortunately, these two Articles have been ignored during the social media trials.

    Legal Remedies

    There are various legal methods for the protection against online harassment. They can seek legal remedies. The remedies are given under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the IT Act.

    IPC

    1. Section 290- Punishment for obscene publication either physical or digital.
    2. Section 499 and 500- Punishment for 2 years and/or fine if someone’s reputation is damaged. In Bilal Ahmed Kaloo v. State of Andhra Pradesh[16], it was observed by the court that a person is liable under Section 499 if not published the accusation.
    3. Section 503- Punishes a person for criminal intimidation. Section 507 punishes a person with criminal intimidation with anonymous communication. The punishment under this section can be extended to 2 years. Section 509 brings wrath to the person who performs any gesture which could harm the modesty of a woman through the punishment of 1 year and/or fine. In Shri Vasant Wasan Pradhan v. Dattatraya Vithal Salvi[17], the court says that the intention is the soul of the intimidation that must be surrounded by circumstances.
    4. Section 354 talks about Voyeurism, sexual harassment, stalking, etc. It could punish a person depending on the terms given by the provisions of this section.
    5. Section 228a- It punishes a person for posting explicit and offensive images of the victims of rape. It could imprison someone for 2 years and/or fine. Disclosing the identity of a victim is punishable under Section 228 and could punish someone for 2 years.

    Internet Personality, Subham Mishra was arrested by the police under IPC Sections 292, 354(A), 504, 506, 507, and 509 and IT Act Section 67 for sending rape threats to Agrima Joshua because the latter made some jokes about a historical figure.

    https://legalreadings.com/protection-of-the-environment-under-the-indian-framework/

    IT Act

    1. Sharat Babu Digumatri v. Government of NCT of Delhi[18] (Under Sections 67, 67A and 67B)- The Apex Court gave their two cents that in special cases the IT Act has the advantage over the IPC when the publication of obscene material is digital rather than traditional.
    2. Section 66 punishes a person for 3 years imprisonment and/or fine. Although this section was struck down in the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India as the court expressed its concerns that it might endanger freedom of speech.
    3. Section 72 punishes a person for 2 years imprisonment and/or Rs 1 Lakh fine if he/she secures a material in a non-consensual manner.

    Media Trials[19]

    During the prime of the Sushant Case, the trial by the media was at its absolute worst. The Bombay High Court finds it “contemptuous”. In other words, the media has goofed it up. They’ve made it very clear that they will start giving judgments on a person whether the allegations made against him/her are credible or not.

    All of a sudden the media started to believe that they’re the top of the Indian Court Hierarchy.  Or they’ll play prosecution or defense like Ram Jethmalani. Whether the information is true or false does not matter to them. They care about the story’s spiciness, all that for the juicy TRPs[20]. In the Sushant Case itself, the media (especially Republic TV) capitalized on the death of the actor. They started making conspiracy theories, fanfictions, and whatnot. They’re the ones who’ve harassed Rhea Chakraborty when she went to the NCB for questioning. And they harassed her for all these theories that were created.

    The media didn’t even bother what they were doing was wrong, both morally and legally. They didn’t realize that they’re committing an act of character assassination. She suffers the fate of being Sushant’s girlfriend. They even harassed her father. Ironically and hypocritically, they pride themselves as the supporters of the army yet they didn’t seem to bother that he was a retired army officer. 

    It’s also funny that an organization that is supposed to inform the public is itself misinformed. They’ve been accused of spreading misinformation, fake news, and outright lies to the masses.

    Arnab Goswami received huge flak regarding the Sushant case and was one of the prime suspects of the infamous TRP Scam Case[21]. Something as influential as the media can capitalize someone’s death over some ratings. The Sushant case is just one example. There are other cases where the media has damaged the proceedings of the court. The Arushi Talwar case is one such example where even before the actual court proceedings took place, the media already gave the verdict. This caused the public to go on banshee mode leading to mass hysteria and protests. The masses believed that the parents were  the murderers. It all happened due to the media’s incompetence.

    In the Rohtak Sister case, a video of two sisters beating 3 boys went viral and the media hailed the girls as heroes. The boys on the other hand were humiliated by the national TV. It was eventually found out that the sisters were the actual perpetrators. Many women accused them of harassing the 3 boys who were innocent in the first place.

    Journalist Murthi-Ul-Rehman Siddiqui was arrested alongside 6 others for alleged terrorism. The police believed that they might assassinate high-profile politicians and journalists. Although Siddiqui was acquitted from the charges, the damage was already done. He and his family were branded “terrorists” by the media.

    Their influence has done tremendous damage to our society. Their current behaviour, they might even jeopardize the structure of India’s democracy. Their over-sensationalization of certain topics like the Sushant case has made the masses ignore the other issues that matter. The floods were pillaging Assam. But the media didn’t care because it wasn’t profitable enough[22]. Or the religious strife between the Hindu and Muslim communities that has brought the secular line to its lowest point after the riots wrecked North-East Delhi. There was no single suitable governmental policy that could improve the country’s economy. The second half of 2020 saw the farmer’s protest which was later sensationalized when foreign celebrities like Rihanna got involved and didn’t get much traction earlier. And then, there is the ongoing COVID Pandemic which is still affecting the lives of many people. The media didn’t even bother to criticize the government blunders that were committed when the second wave hit the country. 

    Henceforth, the media used to be democracy’s fourth pillar but it’s a mere shadow of its former self now.

    Legal Remedies[23]

    According to the State of Maharashtra v. Rajendra J. Gandhi[24], the Apex Court said that any form of the trial either electronic, press or public agitation serves as the antithesis to the court of law. The court further stated that it could lead to miscarriage of justice.

    With that in mind, ordinary folks can take various remedies against the hazardous nature of media trials. 

    1. Article 19(2) of the Constitution works as a restriction to Article 19(1) that is  freedom of speech. That also applies to the right to freedom of the press. This restriction exists so that India’s position and reputation do not become untenable.
    2. Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC serve as a remedy for the victims of defamation. The person accused of this will be sentenced to 2 years in prison and/or fine.
    3. Section 228a of the IPC ensures that the real identity of the victims is never disclosed to the public after the debacle of Nirbhaya and Hyderabad gang rape cases. The punishment for this is 2 years of punishment. 
    4. Section 354C of the IPC discusses the punishment of voyeurism. Any person taking photos of a woman without her consent shall be punished with 3 years of imprisonment. Repeating the said offense will lead to the extension of an imprisonment sentence of 7 years.
    5. Section 3(1) of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971 gives an insight into the exemption of publication or distribution of the publication. It might potentially lead to disruption of the judicial process.
    6. The definition of criminal contempt is mentioned in Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Court Act, 1971. It says that it could create scandals and will disrupt the judicial process.
    7. Articles 21 and 301 of the Constitution give more importance to the right to a fair trial. It was further explained in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[25].
    8. Article 39A of the Constitution gives the right to free legal aid to the poorer and weaker sections of the society.

    Other Developments[26]

    1. In 2017, Justice J.S. Khehar of the Supreme Court expressed concerns regarding the rising media trials. The Supreme Court also plans to curtail it soon.
    2. The trial by the media was also explained in the 200th Law Commission. The second name of this is Free Speech v. Media Trial under Criminal Procedure.

    Case Laws

    In the case of re PC. Sen[27], Justice Shah expressed his view on the media trial. According to him, any law regarding contempt of court is well settled. Any act of publication that has the potential to bring down the authority of the court alongside disrupting the proceedings of the law will come under the term that is contempt of court.

    Sushil Sharma v. The State (Delhi Administration and Ors.)[28] also brings the example of how the media trial disrupts the court proceedings. In this case, a person is accused of murdering his partner. Albeit the case lacks evidence and the proceedings have not yet reached their conclusion. 

    Despite this, the media started to take things out of proportion. They started to paint the accused as the actual murderer. This stunt can turn public opinion against the accused.

    The Delhi High Court gave the verdict that any accused person should be convicted based on the facts, not on the wishes of the media. Furthermore, even if the charges are filed against the person it should be done based on the evidence. It should not be done just because the media portrays the accused as the murderer.

    Thus any material given by the media during their trials does not have the same stature as that of a law.

    Conclusion

    On the social media platforms, the #JusticeforSSR crusade is still going on. On coin’s second side, the media stopped caring about the case. Though there some news regarding the case still pop up. The cause has lost momentum and is now a pale shadow of what it once was. The whole case has made the entire internet toxic and it brought the worst out of people. This isn’t to say that only the Indian media does that. The New York Times talk big about India’s COVID situation while they make trivial news about Mr. Beast’s debunked allegations or whining about Elon Musk stealing memes which is a common norm.. It shows that even reputed media outlets can vomit on themselves. Furthermore, they are in no position to talk about any serious topic.

    Our media has damaged their reputation with their bogus research, over-sensationalization of trivial topics, ignorance of situations that need attention, and complete apathy towards the people they target. 

    The SSR Case proves how they will stoop so low that they will milk the death of a person over ratings. And they are the ones at fault. The people who watch them should also bear the responsibility because they watch entertainment rather than actual news. They received half-knowledge from our media and half-knowledge creates a harmful impact on society than anything. They act rashly and emotionally rather than doing more factual research. They create a cult of sheep and if anyone who goes against the status quo, who does not abide by their moral compass is shunned. It is quite embarrassing how the #JusticeForSSR crusade turned out to be a huge pile of mess.

    If the people do not learn from their mistakes then sooner or later, they will harm the internet, the democracy, and the country itself.

    REFERENCES

    [1] Suhani Singh, The mysterious death of Sushant Singh Rajput, www.msn.com/en-in/news/other/the-mysterious-death-of-sushant-singh-rajput/ar-BB18fwic, (Aug. 21, 2020).

    [2] AIIMS report on Sushant Singh Rajput death: Who said what, Hindustan Times, www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/aiims-report-on-sushant-singh-rajput-death-who-said-what/story-bASG0BNVkkHtRRICgHeItN.html ,(Oct.3, 2020).

    [3]  Sushant Singh Rajput suicide: Nepotism is bad, but wishing death on other actors wont fix it, Entertainment News,The Indian Express, indianexpress.com/article/entertainment/opinion-entertainment/sushant-singh-rajput-suicide-nepotism-6471215/ (June 23, 2020).

    [4]  Amid Nepotism Backlash, Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Limit Comments On Social Media Accounts, www.news18.com/news/movies/amid-nepotism-backlash-karan-johar-alia-bhatt-kareena-limit-comments-on-social-media-accounts-2682867.html,  (June 23, 2020).

    [5] Rakhi Bose, Bullying Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt for Sushant Singh Rajput’s Death Won’t Fix Nepotism Battle, www.news18.com/news/buzz/bullying-karan-johar-alia-bhatt-for-sushant-singh-rajputs-death-doesnt-fix-nepotism-or-mental-health-battle-2673871.html, (June 17, 2020),.

    [6] Rhea Chakraborty and brother spotted outside NCB office – In pics, News zeenews.india.com/photos/entertainment/rhea-chakraborty-and-brother-spotted-outside-ncb-office-in-pics-2352880, (Apr. 5, 2021).

    [7]   Rhea Chakraborty and brother spotted outside NCB office – In pics, News, zeenews.india.com/photos/entertainment/rhea-chakraborty-and-brother-spotted-outside-ncb-office-in-pics-2352880, (Apr. 5, 2021).

    [8]  India TV, Rhea sent to 14-day judicial custody, bail plea rejected | Sushant Death Probe UPDATES, Celebrities News India TV, www.indiatvnews.com/entertainment/celebrities/sushant-singh-rajput-death-case-live-updates-rhea-chakraborty-interrogation-ncb-priyanka-singh-fir-reaction-647945, (Sept. 9, 2020).

    [9]  Published: September 4, Breaking: Rhea Chakrabortys Brother Showik Chakraborty Gets Arrested by NCB, Rhea to be Summoned, India News, Breaking News | India.com, www.india.com/entertainment/breaking-rhea-chakrabortys-brother-showik-chakraborty-gets-arrested-by-ncb-4131825/, (Sept. 4, 2020).

    [10] Mass Media and Democracy: An Indian Perspective, Lawyersclubindia, www.lawyersclubindia.com/articles/Mass-Media-and-Democracy-An-Indian-Perspective-2896.asp, (May 20, 2018).

    [11]  The Witch-Hunting of Rhea Chakraborty Needs to Stop, Yahoo News, in.news.yahoo.com/witch-hunting-rhea-chakraborty-needs-212759480.html, (July 31, 2020).

    [12]  Law Corner, The Online Mob Mentality in India, Law Corner, lawcorner.in/the-online-mob-mentality-in-india/, (Jan. 26, 2021) .

    [13] Sushant Singh Rajput death case: Rhea Chakraborty’s side of the story, The Times of India, timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/bollywood/news/sushant-singh-rajput-death-case-rhea-chakrabortys-side-of-the-story/photostory/77348095.cms, (Aug. 4, 2020).

    [14]  Jasleen Kaur case: Sarvjeet acquitted after four years, netizens demand apology from Kejriwal, Arnab for maligning him, www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2019/oct/26/jasleen-kaur-case-sarvjeet-acquitted-after-four-years-netizens-demand-apology-from-kejriwal-arnab-2053322.html, (Oct. 26, 2019).

    [15] Jasleen v/s Sarvjeet: What’s wrong with pseudo feminism, and media |, NewsBytes, www.newsbytesapp.com/news/india/jasleen-kaur-case-sarvjeet-bedi-acquitted-by-court/story, (Oct. 26, 2019).

    [16]  Crl. A. No, 81/97.

    [17] (2004) (1) MH LJ 487.

    [18] Sharat Babu Digumarti vs State, Govt. of NCT of Delhi (Bazee.com Case, Appeal), Information Tech. Law ,www.itlaw.in/sharat-babu-digumarti-vs-state-govt-nct-delhi-bazee-com-case-appeal/, (May 30, 2017).

    [19]  Recent Developments in the arena of Freedom of Speech and Expression and Concept of Media Trial: Explained, www.latestlaws.com/articles/recent-developments-in-the-arena-of-freedom-of-speech-and-expression-and-concept-of-media-trial-explained/, (4th Jan, 2021).

    [20]  Pamela Philipose, Backstory: All Media Trials Have a Secret Ingredient, thewire.in/media/backstory-all-media-trials-have-a-secret-ingredient, (n.d).

    [21]   India Today, Republic TV, Arnab Goswami in dock for TRP scam: What you need to know, India News , www.indiatoday.in/india/story/republic-tv-arnab-goswami-trp-fraud-mumbai-police-1729670-2020-10-08, (Oct. 8, 2020).

    [22]  Preetish Kumar Chanda, Assam Floods 2020, timesofindia.indiatimes.com/readersblog/letsbereal/assam-floods-2020-23481/, (July 23, 2020).

    [23]  Recent Developments in the arena of Freedom of Speech and Expression and Concept of Media Trial: Explained, www.latestlaws.com/articles/recent-developments-in-the-arena-of-freedom-of-speech-and-expression-and-concept-of-media-trial-explained/, (4th Jan, 2021).

    [24] CRIMINAL APPEAL NOS. 840 & 839 OF 1997.

    [25] Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India (1978), Important SC Judgements for UPSC, byjus.com/free-ias-prep/maneka-gandhi-case-1978-sc-judgements/, (July 27, 2020).

    [26] Recent Developments in the arena of Freedom of Speech and Expression and Concept of Media Trial: Explained, www.latestlaws.com/articles/recent-developments-in-the-arena-of-freedom-of-speech-and-expression-and-concept-of-media-trial-explained/, (4th Jan, 2021).

    [27]  Re: P.C. Sen vs Unknown on 8 November, 1968, SC 1821, 1970 CriLJ 1525, 1969 2 SCR 649.

    [28] CriLJ 3944.


    BY ANISH BACHCHAN | AMITY LAW SCHOOL, NOIDA

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