Kerala FB users face jail for ‘promoting drinking’ via photos & posts

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Social media users posting in one of Kerala’s biggest Facebook Groups are facing the prospect of being sent to jail for ‘encouraging alcoholism’ by glamorizing drinking.

Given there’s no law against glamorizing drinking, Kerala Excise Department is reported to have directed the police to use other laws — such as those against child abuse and spreading religious hatred — to book the members of the group, Glassile Nurayum Platile Curriyum (The Froth in the Glass and the Curry on the Plate).

The group has 2 mln members and is possibly the largest congregation of Malayalis on Facebook. TN Ajithkumar, the FB user from Trivandrum who started the group, has approached the courts for anticipatory bail.

The Excise department of Kerala government is learnt to have taken the decision to file a case against the Facebook users after Excise Commissioner Rishi Raj Singh decided to go after people who he felt were glamorizing drinking online.

Singh, who originally hails from Rajasthan, is no stranger to headlines, and has been in the news for saying that that any man who stares at a woman for more than 14 seconds can be booked for sexual harassment.

The Excise Department has directed that members who posted pictures in which both alcohol and children are present be prosecuted under the Juvenile Justice Act, while those who have posted photos containing both liquor and religious symbols be prosecuted under IPC sections for trying to incite strife between communities.

It is not clear if people who posted photos of liquor, wine etc on their personal Facebook and Twitter pages will also be arrested, or whether action will be taken only on the members of the GNPC group.

It is also not clear whether people who simply posted pictures of liquor will be booked, or only those who have posted pictures in which both liquor and children or religious symbols are present will be prosecuted.

While there is no clear law that apply to ordinary citizens against ‘encouraging alcoholism’ in their interactions with other citizens, there are laws, including the Cable Television Network Regulation Act, that apply to liquor ads on public medium such as Television.

The applicability of the rules applying to mass media, such as the Cable TV Act, on social media is a grey area as social media contains both one-to-one interactions as well as one-to-many interactions. It also not clear whether a post by an individual, especially where no money is changing hands, can be considered an advertisement.

Glassile Nurayum Platile Curriyum, often abreviated GNPC, cannot be joined or even seen without an invite from an existing member due to its privacy settings that have been set to ‘secret’. However, links to the group can often appear on the sidebar of Facebook.

The Excise Department’s actions come in the wake of reports that liquor companies have been trying to use social media to advertise their products as they are unable to do so on mass media.

Reports also indicated that the department asked the police to check if those allegedly using the GNPC group to ‘glamorize drinking’ have been receiving any compensation or reward from liquor companies in exchange for their actions, which could make it a case of advertising.