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Right to Freedom of Expression vs. Review Bombing

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  • Context (TH): Malayalam director approached the Kerala High Court seeking a gag on social media and YouTube reviews following a film’s release to protect it from review bombing.
  • It is being claimed that review bombing threatens the industry’s financial stability.

Review Bombing

  • Review bombing is the act of posting numerous negative reviews, often coordinated, to harm the reputation of a product, service, or content.
  • Mainly linked to media and entertainment, review bombing extends to other areas like online marketplaces, apps, and businesses.
  • It can be done for various reasons, such as:
    • Protest or grievance
    • Promote competitors’ product
    • Personal vendettas
    • Social or political motivations

Freedom of Expression

  • Freedom of expression is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of Indian Constitution.
  • It states that all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression, subject to certain reasonable restrictions.

Key Elements of Freedom of Expression

  • It is solely available to a citizen of India, not to a foreign national.
  • It includes the right to express one’s views and opinions about any issue.
  • It includes the right to express in any medium, such as by words, writing, printing, etc.
  • This right is not absolute; GoI can impose reasonable restrictions in cases which involve:
    • Sovereignty and integrity of India
    • Security of the state
    • Friendly relations with foreign nations
    • Public order, decency and morality
    • Contempt of court
    • Defamation and incitement to an offence.

Reasons Why Review Bombing Should be Protected as Part of Freedom of Expression

  • To hold businesses and creators accountable
  • To raise consumer awareness
  • To hold as a protest against powerful businesses and creators

Reasons Why Restrictions on Review Bombing is Not Violation of Freedom of Expression

  • It can misled consumers seeking accurate information.
  • It can unfairly harm the reputation and livelihood of creators, businesses, or developers.
  • Coordinated review bombing can suppress the genuine opinions of users.
  • It is susceptible to manipulation by trolls, competitors, or individuals with malicious intent.
  • Prolonged and widespread review bombing can erode trust in online review systems.
  • Review bombers often escape accountability, making addressing this practice’s misuse difficult.

Way Forward

  • There is a grey area between review bombing and freedom of expression.
  • If review bombing is motivated by genuine reasons, it can be a form of freedom of expression.
  • But if review bombing is motivated by malicious intent, it misuses freedom of expression.
  • So, the interests of creators, businesses, etc., should be protected from review bombing but not at the cost of freedom of expression. So, a proper regulatory body is the need of the hour.
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