“Do not take laws into your hands.” So what should we do? We sue! Of course, that generally assumes that there is a cause in the first place and second, that we can identify the wrongdoer. Then we can truly leave the rest for the lawyers to handle in court; Right? But is this process always that straightforward with respect to attacks on our personality/reputation on the internet? Let’s set our minds to “free-roam”. 
With any platform as simple as a mobile browser and an internet connection, the World Wide Web is our playground. With Nigeria reported as having over 48 million internet users, the possibilities are endless. Recent reports have pitched Nigeria as high as having over five million users on facebook. Local TV and radio stations encourage their viewers and listeners to contribute to discussions via social media channels, phone calls and text messages. Forums are also there to serve as mini communities for members’ discussions and the likes.  What’s the drift?

Here it is: traditional newspaper and television journalism have largely mutated into citizen journalism, blogging, online forums and commenting etc. In recent times, we have witnessed the use of these channels for the publishing of statements which are “defamatory” in character. Thus, it is now possible for just about anyone to say anything about anybody on the internet. That’s not all. Business interests have also been the subject of negative publishing from various sources – including rival companies. I’m sure many more examples are coming up on your mind already. And yes, we are talking about internet defamation.
The current state of our laws here in Nigeria do not capture internet defamation but it is nonetheless synonymous, in concept, with defamation as known in civil/criminal law. Internet defamation describes a situation in which a person directly impresses in the mind of another person a matter that is not only untrue but is likely in the ordinary and natural course of things to substantially injure the reputation of a third party. 
Amongst the many issues associated with suing for defamatory materials published online is the issue of locating the offender. Most online users do not signup with websites under their real names. Apart from the use of pseudo names, geographical data and personality details of such users can be very difficult to obtain. 
There are deeper issues associated with internet defamation. What we’ve just done this week is to stimulate our thoughts a little bit in this area. Of course, we shall be taking a dive into some of the issues in closer details. We shall also look at other jurisdictions on the point.
Join me again next week!

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Nigerian Law Today

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12 Comments

  • This is so true and very disturbing. Legal scholars are yet to be unanimous about how to determine jurisdiction over an act performed in the internet. What of if pornographic pictures are posted in country A whose laws do not forbid pornographic views by minors, but such pictures are opened and viewed by an internet user in country B whose laws forbid pornographic view by minors. How does the court of one country exercise subject matter jurisdiction over a person in another country who performed the offending act? How do you arrest or compel such a person to attend proceedings in a court which exist thousands of miles away? Perhaps, the entire world may have to enter into a treaty so that the issue of jurisdiction and applicable laws are laid to rest. God job Ebi.

  • This is so true and very disturbing. Legal scholars are yet to be unanimous about how to determine jurisdiction over an act performed in the internet. What of if pornographic pictures are posted in country A whose laws do not forbid pornographic views by minors, but such pictures are opened and viewed by an internet user in country B whose laws forbid pornographic view by minors. How does the court of one country exercise subject matter jurisdiction over a person in another country who performed the offending act? How do you arrest or compel such a person to attend proceedings in a court which exist thousands of miles away? Perhaps, the entire world may have to enter into a treaty so that the issue of jurisdiction and applicable laws are laid to rest. God job Ebi.

  • This is one of the contemporary legal issues that has been thrown up vie the development in ICT. Our legislators like those of other developed climes have to rise to this challenge by updating our laws or come up with legislations to cover this emerging area. Am happy to note that especially in a country like ours where we are faced with myriad of leadership challenges, the primary victims of online defamation, cyberstalking would be those of them at the top.