The Kerala Police has registered a case against online film reviewers and social media platforms following a complaint by a film’s director, The News Minute reported on Wednesday.

Ubani E, the director of the Malayalam movie Rahel Makan Kora, filed a complaint stating that the accused targeted the movie soon after its release on October 13 by posting negative reviews about it on social media.

The director claimed that this was done with the intention of extorting and bringing him disrepute. Ubani also alleged that one of the accused threatened to further “harm the film” if he took legal action against him.

Among the accused is Hains, owner of a cinema promotion company named Snake Plant, The Hindu reported. Others include YouTubers Arun Tharanga and Aswanth Kok, a person with a Facebook account named anoopanu6165, operators of YouTube channels NV Focus, Trend Sector 24X7 and Travelling Soulmates with a social media handle soulmates55. Social media platforms YouTube and Facebook have also reportedly been booked.

They were booked under Indian Penal Code Section 385, which pertains to putting person in fear of injury in order to commit extortion, and Section 34 – acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention – and the Kerala Police Act Section 120 (O) for causing nuisance violation of public order.

Monitoring of online platforms

This came on the day the Kerala High Court called for close monitoring of online platforms to ensure that anonymous and malicious film reviews are neither posted, nor circulated, reported Live Law.

A bench of Justice Devan Ramachandran directed the authorities to act against such content by invoking the relevant provisions of the Information Technology Act.

The court was hearing a case by the director of the film Aromalinte Adyathe Pranayam, who is seeking a gag order to ensure that social media influencers and film-reviewing vloggers do not publish any reviews for at least seven days after a film is released. Another plea, by the Producers’ Association, was also being heard.

The petitioners told the court about social media pages operating either anonymously or under fictional names. They said that this practice violates the Information Technology Act’s Sections 66C (punishment for identity theft’) and 66D (punishment for cheating by personation) read with Section 79 (exemption from liability of intermediary in certain cases).

“This is a new world, not one we grew up in,” said Justice Ramachandran. “Freedom of speech and expression should not be used for justifying a crime. We are not covering a crime by fundamental rights. Suppose you go to a hotel and you do not like the food, you are entitled to your opinion. But you cannot use it to blackmail.”

Meanwhile, the Kerala Police submitted protocols being put in place to prevent “motivated, malicious, negative reviews” and “review bombings”, which the court called a welcome step.