Delhi High Court on Monday granted interim anonymity to Instagram user by the name Herdsceneand who has accused artist Subodh Gupta in the #MeToo movement.
The court has also allowed the user to file in a sealed cover its response to Gupta’s plea seeking removal of the allegedly defamatory content made against him on social media and “vakalatnama” (document empowering a lawyer to act for and on behalf of his client) to maintain its interim anonymity and furnish a redacted copy of its response Gupta.
Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw asked the anonymous account holder to file within two weeks its response to Gupta’s suit in which he has also sought Rs. 5 crore for damage caused to him and his family due to the alleged defamatory posts.
The court had earlier directed social media giants Google, Facebook and Instagram to remove the anonymous posts containing sexual harassment accusations against him that emerged during last year’s #MeToo movement.
Advocate Abhik Chimni, representing the anonymous Instagram account holder, said his client was maintaining the handle, reports incidents on that account and was seeking anonymity as part of his right and irreparable loss would be caused to him if his identity is disclosed at this stage.
The court questioned his stand saying: “How can you hide behind an electronic identity. How can they (plaintiff) be allowed to fight against a ghost… I don’t understand the concept of shadow boxing here.”
The counsel said he was not hiding and if the identity of the account holder is revealed at this stage, it will lead to retaliation against him. When the counsel was justifying his right to maintain anonymity at this stage, the court said: “On one side you reveal the other person’s identity but you do not want to reveal your identity”.
According to Live Law, the court also modified the previous interim order so as to lend the direction issued to Facebook to reveal the Basic Subscriber Information(BSI) of the Instagram account ‘Herdsceneand’ infructuous, as now the account holder is itself willing to join the case.
On September 18, the Single Bench of Justice Endlaw had passed an ex-parte interim order in a suit filed by Subodh Gupta seeking removal of the allegedly defamatory content made against him on an Instagram handle. In that order, Justice Endlaw had directed the removal of the defamatory content and blocking of the URLs mentioned therein.
“Further, Instagram LLC was directed to produce the identity of the person behind the said Instagram handle. On September 30, when it was informed to the court that Facebook is the relevant data controller for the Instagram services in India, the court had directed Facebook to, ‘furnish to this court in a sealed cover envelope the particulars of the person behind the Instagram account Herdsceneand.’ Facebook had said that it should not be compelled the said information, as at this stage of the proceedings, it would be wrong to assume that the contested content was disseminated with an intent to cause mischief; especially when such content deals with the matter of great public importance – sexual harassment.”
The high court also asked Gupta to file replies to the impleadment applications filed by Culture Workers Trust and Indian Journalists Union. It listed the matter for further hearing on January 22, next year.