While we hoped for a verdict on the libel or defamation case filed by Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) against Dasho Paljor J Dorji, who is more popularly known as Dasho Benji, the Thimphu dzongkhag court accepted the political party’s request to withdraw the case.
DPT took Dasho Benji to court after he made a comment on Facebook about the party, which it felt was defamatory.
A verdict on the libel case would have provided some clarity on where the law stands on what we write, say, ‘share’, ‘like’, or whatever other online activity a social media platform may provide.
We have another high-profile online libel case nearing its end. A verdict on the DPT Vs Dasho Benji case would have provided an example to be studied and aid future cases in reaching a judgment.
We need some black and white on where the law stands in relation to some online activities.
While we await clarity, there is another controversial phenomenon that has emerged online. With more shops installing CCTV cameras, shoplifters are being caught red handed in the act. Footage of them stealing, or what appears to be acts of larceny, are being uploaded onto social media in an effort to identify the culprits through crowdsourcing. The uploading of the footage is also an act of public shaming so as to get the culprits to turn themselves in so that the footage can be removed.
In other countries, such public shaming tactics has proven effective in both leading to the arrests of the shoplifters, and deterring shoplifting.
However, there are ethical concerns about the act.
While shopkeepers may argue that they’ve caught the person red handed, and have the right to share the video since the alleged crime occurred on their property, there is still a legal process that needs to be followed.
If someone has shoplifted they deserve to face the law but justice should be left to the relevant authorities and the courts of law. Ideally, the footage should be handed over to the police, whose job it is to identify and charge the person in a court of law. The court would then study the footage, and get the accused’s views, because everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
There is also always the possibility of someone being wrongly identified or even wrongly accused. It has happened elsewhere. We, as human beings, are often quick to judge and commit errors.
The damage that could be caused to such individuals would be immense and could set up the uploader for serious reprisals in a court of law for defamation and invasion of privacy.
There are still many other questionable activities that occur online, such as the sharing of pornography, and other footage or images of people, clearly without their consent. For these cases, we know it is illegal, yet many continue to engage in these illegal acts by sharing such material.
What is clear is that in some areas, we can easily distinguish what is right and what is wrong. For some activities, there is a grey area. The upcoming verdict on the ongoing libel case will provide some much needed clarity.