Your Advocate | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 31, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:03 AM, May 31, 2016

Your Advocate

This week Your Advocate is Barrister Omar Khan Joy, Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh. He is the head of the chambers of a renowned law firm, namely, 'Legal Counsel', which has expertise mainly in commercial law, corporate law, family law, employment and labor law, land law, banking law, constitutional law, criminal law, IPR and in conducting litigations before courts of different hierarchies.

I am a university student in Bangladesh. For a long time now, I have been receiving unwanted friend requests and a large number of disgusting messages on Facebook almost every day. I am very annoyed about this fact and I would like to know if I can take action against these people. 

Dear reader, thank you very much for your query. Facebook has been a useful platform along with other social networking sites by which we connect with friends, exercise freedom of speech, and get updated on current events. However, it is also true that this medium of global communication has been misused on a daily basis that interferes with the personal life of many of its users. 
Now, coming to the matter in question, it has to be admitted that this has been an issue of recurrent discomfort that a lot of Facebook users face on a daily basis, and unfortunately, majority of these sufferers are women. This is more of a social problem as opposed to a purely legal one. 

At the very outset, let me make it clear that sending friend requests to unknown people or even sending them a message is not illegal by any law of Bangladesh and it also does not violate any laws of Facebook. In fact, this was initially the concept behind Facebook: to connect with new friends around the globe. However, the misuse of such facilities by a handful of troublemakers has resulted in Facebook changing its privacy settings, and domestic laws of different countries are also focusing on such social networking sites. You may easily avoid many such occurrences simply by maintaining stricter privacy settings for your Facebook account. 

Speaking from a legal point of view, it is not at all illegal to send friend requests to unknown persons. However, as far as the private messages are concerned which you have commented to be 'disgusting' ones, one might need to consider the nature and contents of such messages. If these messages are indecent and/or threatening in nature, there might be a scope of legal measures to be taken against the sender. As under the Bangladeshi Penal Code, such indecent and/or threatening messages may constitute offenses. Nevertheless, if such messages are not indecent and/or threatening in nature but rather merely annoying, there might not be any legal consequences/remedies for them.

We have to consider the fact that Facebook has been the focal point of several raging debates as to a platform for exercising Freedom of Speech of an individual user. Such debates stem from legal sanctions imposed by the law enforcing agencies of many countries on the users of Facebook. For example, most recently, Section 66A of the Information Technology Act in India made it an arrestable offence to put up Status or Comments on social networking sites, which the Government of India felt were offensive. Several people were, in fact, arrested for criticising several political figures. However, very recently the Indian Supreme Court ruled that S.66A is unconstitutional and, therefore, it was struck down. This again goes on to show the thin line that today's social networking site users have to walk by, as many countries still have laws that prevent anti-government remarks or publications to be termed as offenses under law.  

Reverting back to the query, it is completely understandable you are uncomfortable with such friend requests or messages from unknown Facebook users. It would perhaps be wise to revisit your Facebook privacy settings and customize the same according to your preference.

On the other hand, if you feel that some of these messages were indecent and/or threatening, you may also choose to lodge a General Diary ('GD') before the police station stating the scenario. If these messages are, in fact, indecent and/or threatening, the same may be punishable under the Penal Code. Although the laws as well as the investigation procedure in Bangladesh relating to cyber-crimes are still in a primary stage, and are yet to be developed, nevertheless, such messages may also attract violation of several sections under the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act 2006 (as amended in 2009). 

I expect that reasonable and responsible use of the social networking sites by all individuals alike would minimize such unwanted incidents, resulting in the enhancement of positive experience of users.

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