In a landmark verdict, the Madras High Court ordered YouTuber Joe Micheal Praveen to pay Rs. 50 lakh in compensation to transgender celebrity and AIADMK spokesperson Apsara Reddy. The court found Praveen guilty of ‘defaming’ and ‘humiliating’ Reddy through derogatory videos uploaded on his channel.
The judgement signifies a strong stance against online harassment and bullying, particularly targeting marginalised communities like the transgender community. It serves as a clear warning to YouTubers and social media users who engage in hate speech and discriminatory content.
Apsara Reddy, in her petition, accused Praveen of “defaming” and “gossiping” about her since she declined collaboration in 2017 during her tenure as the editor of Provogue Magazine. The petition cited at least 10 YouTube videos where Praveen allegedly spoke derogatorily about Reddy, questioning her character and mocking her sex-change.
According to Reddy, the collaboration request in 2017 initiated the negative campaign by Praveen when she declined to work with him. As a result, several speaking engagements that Reddy had been invited to were abruptly cancelled. Seeking Rs. 1.25 crores as damages, Reddy explained the stress and mental agony she endured due to the defamatory posts by Praveen.
The petition detailed how Reddy underwent multiple counseling sessions with a psychologist to cope with the mental trauma caused by the “slanderous videos.” She also alleged that various important programmes to which she was invited were called off, directly impacting her professional and personal life.
After meticulous examination of the videos and posts submitted by Reddy, Justice N Satish Kumar, in an order dated January 4, concluded that the content was indeed defamatory and lacked any effort on Praveen’s part to verify its accuracy. The court emphasised the malicious nature of the statements, touching upon the privacy of an individual.
Justice Kumar stated in the order, “The perusal of the entire defamatory statements…the statements are nothing but malicious and defamatory touching upon the privacy of any individual. Merely because a person has a right to post on YouTube, he cannot cross his limit encroaching upon the privacy of others.”
The court underscored that while freedom of expression is a right, it is subject to reasonable restrictions, especially when statements on social media platforms like YouTube encroach upon an individual’s character, behaviour, and personal life. The defamatory statements, as highlighted in the YouTube videos, were deemed objectionable and malicious, lacking any semblance of truth.
Apsara Reddy, the transgender celebrity and AIADMK spokesperson, filed a case against Google in connection with defamatory content uploaded on YouTube by Joe Michael Praveen. However, the case was dismissed as Google had promptly removed the content upon being flagged, and Apsara had relinquished the relief sought against the tech giant.
Apsara had taken legal action against Google for allowing Praveen to upload around 10 defamatory videos, which were later removed by the platform. Google narrowly escaped a penalty, with the petitioner not pressing charges against the tech giant, acknowledging its swift action in content removal.
Expressing gratitude on social media, Apsara thanked the judiciary and urged individuals to report rights violations and instances of disrespect. She emphasised the detrimental impact of hate speech on the transgender community’s access to various aspects of life, including housing, education, employment, and societal acceptance.
Prominent figures, including BJP functionary and National Commission for Women member Kushbu Sundar, applauded the judiciary’s decision, considering it a clear warning against abusing democratic liberties. Kushbu Sundar congratulated Apsara Reddy, highlighting her resilience and victory in the legal battle. The case underscores the ongoing challenges faced by marginalised communities in combating online hate speech and defamation.
Justice delivered. A clear warning to all those who take liberty under the pretext of democracy very far. Congratulations @talktoapsara you have always been a winner ma. 👏👏👏❤️❤️❤️
Madras HC asks YouTuber to pay Rs 50 lakh as compensation to transgender-celebrity for… pic.twitter.com/RGe9eL2d9H
— KhushbuSundar (@khushsundar) January 13, 2024
The judge observed, “The reputation of the plaintiff (Reddy) has been lowered to a level that many of the programmes of the plaintiff has been cancelled abruptly. The abrupt cancellation of such programmes was mainly because of the circulation of malicious content on social media. All these factors clearly indicate that though the damages cannot be certain, the plaintiff has to be compensated at least for a sum of Rs.50 lakhs.”
The Madras High Court sounded a warning against allowing such malicious content on the platform in the future.