The Madras High Court has said social media firms cannot escape liability for the damage done to society through the spread of fake news and rumours on their platforms, PTI reported on Saturday.

A bench of Justices M Sathyanarayanan and N Seshasayee on Friday said social media companies need to be held responsible for the misuse of their platforms. The bench then adjourned the hearing, Bar and Bench reported.

The bench was hearing a petition, filed by a person identified as Antony Clement Rubin, urging the court to order the linking of users’ social media accounts to Aadhaar cards or any government-verified identity card. The petitioner asked the court to allow him to alter his plea but the judges refused.

“Law and order would be disrupted,” the High Court observed. “The platforms cannot avoid liability for the damage that has been caused through its use.”

However, messaging application WhatsApp’s counsel NL Rajah said linking social media accounts to user IDs would be an intrusion into privacy. “Identities can be misused,” he argued. “If a person can get fake phone numbers, Aadhaar numbers and IDs then innocent people can get framed. So how can we trace?” Rajah said social media companies were trying to bring in regulations globally, and were already in negotiations with the Indian government.

However, the court said the right to privacy cannot be absolute, and cannot infringe upon peace in society. It said that freedom of speech came with responsibility.

Earlier this month, a bench of Justices S Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad, who heard the case, had adjourned its hearing to September 19, Bar and Bench reported. The adjournment was ordered after Facebook made a plea to transfer the proceedings to the Supreme Court.

Following this, the High Court decided to defer the hearing in view of the Supreme Court’s directive that the High Court could not pass any effective orders in the case until the transfer plea was heard. The petition was listed for hearing in the top court on September 13, but it was pushed back to September 24.

On September 13, the Supreme Court asked the Centre if it intended to frame guidelines on linking social media profiles to Aadhaar. A bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose said the matter needed to be heard at the earliest but did not decide whether the High Court or the Supreme Court should hear it.

On Friday, the social media companies who are part of the case urged the Madras High Court to adjourn the hearing till the Supreme Court decides who will hear the case.

Now, follow and debate the day’s most significant stories on Scroll Exchange.