When it is accepted that an emoji is sent to express ones feeling about something, it cannot be treated as an overt act on others. It is a comment may be intended to ridicule or to show one’s disapproval in a given context.’ the Court said.
The Madras High Court recently quashed a criminal complaint against BSNL employees who put ‘smiling face with tears’ emoji in the official WhatsApp group.
A lady officer in BSNL had filed complaint against other employees who put the emoji reacting to a video she had posted in the official WhatsApp group. The group was intended to share the complaints and deficiencies in the service of BSNL and to rectify them and improve the quality of service. The video featured three BSNL customers complaining about deficiency of service.
The complaint was registered under the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act. In the complaint, she stated that because of the posting of crying smiley faces, she was put to mental agony and hence, she could not sleep and she was crying all the night on the said day.
Before the high court, the accused employees stated that the posting of crying smiley faces were to express their feelings in response to video footage and that it is not intended to harm the officer.
Justice SS Sundar observed that an emoji is sent to express one’s feeling about something, it cannot be treated as an overt act on others and Section 67 of the IT Act will not attract as there is no obscenity in the emoji. The court also observed that as the posting of emoji is to express one’s feeling, though it may offend the officer, it is not an act attracting Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, 1998. Further it was observed that the complainant had no case that smiley was intended to humiliate her for being a member of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes.
Quashing the criminal cases against the accused, the judge opined that they ought not to have indulged in posting such emoji in the interest of BSNL since WhatsApp group is formed to promote team spirit. “This Court wanted the petitioners to express their regret as the de-facto complainant in her individual perception felt offended by the posting of such crying smiley. Accordingly the first petitioner has filed an affidavit on behalf of all the petitioners, recording their regret for posting such smileys. The matter should rest here and it will be neither in the interest of justice to permit such complaints to stay,” the court added.