The world is moving towards digitization and India remains no exception to this trend. The rise of social media and the importance it has acquired in our lives has altered our behaviour. On top of this the pandemic has introduced the work from home culture and children who usually do not have sufficient understanding of cyberspace have shifted to online mode of learning. This has led to the rise of cyberbullying causing psychological trauma amongst many.
The Optimist News got in touch with some experts in this field to understand the legal steps we can take and more importantly how we can stay informed.
Cyberbullying a rising menace
A Supreme Court advocate and a cyber law expert Dr. Kanika Seth expressed her concern on this grave issue.
She acknowledges that cyber bullying is rampant in social media especially among school-children and teenagers. “On many occasions fake accounts are created by students and peer groups on various portals to bully others. Children are smart enough even to camouflage their real identity or the IP address of a system using VPNs (Virtual Private Network) or simply through creation of fake email IDs.”
Speaking about the content of these posts Dr. Seth said, “The content could range from obscene images or videos to something which is defamatory or harassment or trolling.”
Talking about the legal recourse one can take, Dr. Seth said, “We have the relevant sections of the Indian IT Act and the POCSO which can be applied depending on the nature of the content. Sexual harassment cases are primarily tried under POCSO, while other sections of IPC can also be applied depending on the nature of the crime, be it, outraging the modesty of women or video voyeurism.
Policing the social media
Advocate Rajas Pingle, who is an international cyber law expert, talks about the problems with the social media platforms. “The main problem today is that these social media platforms are not adhering to the intermediary guidelines. So even if someone is bullying someone else on a social media platform and the victim files a complaint and wants that content or the post removed from the social media platform, many of the platforms are not complying with the guidelines, and are refusing to delete comments,” Advocate Pingle mentioned.
“Moreover whatever protection the victims had vis-a-vis Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, by virtue of Shreya Singhal vs Union of India, that particular section was struck down by the Honourable Supreme Court. Because of that, the only cyber-bullying provision which made it a cognizable offense has been removed and there is no replacement for that section till date. We can take recourse to defamation which is covered under Section 500 of IPC but it is a non-cognizable offence,” he said.
Talking about the trends of cyber-bullying today, he said, “The majority of cyber-bullying crimes are happening in colleges and schools. Everything is virtual now. Between Zoom calls we are seeing many videos where the teachers are being bullied because the students think that they can hide their identity and harass anyone.”
Rajas Pingle suggests bringing about a strict law to safeguard victims of cyber-bullying. Talking about the remedies available, he said, “Usually the perpetrators create fake accounts and use it to bully others. It is always advisable not to add someone unknown on social media. If someone unknown is sending you messages on Whatsapp or Telegram you should block that number immediately. If you are being added to an unknown group it is best to leave.”
Protest against cyberbullying
Bivas Chatterjee who is a Special Public Prosecutor on Cyber Law & E-Evidence also expressed concern about children who are mostly affected due to cyberbullying in this pandemic and the subsequent lockdown imposed on schools and educational institutions. “Children are connected to the internet and are on their mobile devices most of the time. They are taking their classes online as well. Other than conventional bullying, cyberbullying is now mostly done by the pedophiles because nowadays children are more approachable than before,” he said.
Chatterjee mentioned that 98 percent of cybercrimes are not even reported to the police station. “Firstly, children need to come out of their shells and file a complaint. Even if the victim is not in a position to file a complaint, his or her guardian should be determined to do it. All the districts of West Bengal have a cyber police station. Secondly, all the documents should be preserved. Screenshots need to be taken along with the URL and should be preserved for the evidence. It is necessary that these should be handed over to the investigating officer because it is the starting point of any investigation. If they delete their accounts for their safety without preserving the evidence then the criminal will never be traced,” he stressed.
Talking about the legal provisions one can take recourse to in case of cyber-bullying Chatterjee mentioned, “There are specific provisions under IPC. There are the amended provisions of Section 354 and depending on the content and merit of the case the penal provisions of Section 66E, 67, 67A and 67B of the IT Act can be invoked.”
Boost your digital hygiene
Nirali Bhatia, Cyber Psychologist and founder of Cyber B.A.A.P. (Cyber-bullying Awareness Action & Prevention), an anti-cyber-bullying organization, said, “Today we are being consumed by technology. This is not only because the world is moving towards digitization but during the lockdown the way people have been forced to move towards it without appropriate education, information and knowledge on how to use it, has led to a huge rise in cybercrime.”
Nirali Bhatia started Cyber B.A.A.P. in 2018. She informed that the average complaints used to range between ten to fifteen cases in a month. However since the lockdown Cyber BAAP has recorded around 8000 to 10000 cases which amount to 20 cases a day on an average. This shows how rampant the problem has become. Most of the cases are about extortion, revenge pornography and the like.
“Anonymity is offering a lot of people to behave in a way they are not expected to behave socially. Since cyberspace does not have a well defined code of conduct, we don’t receive much education about it; people are taking the freedom which this space allows, to behave in a way that is unacceptable. People engaging in these activities are often not aware that what they are doing is criminal,” Bhatia mentioned.
While speaking about the steps we can take to be a part of a safe cyberspace, Nirali Bhatia said, “Information technology and our smart-phones have become inseparable from our lives. We cannot do without them. The cue lies in proper discipline and management to stay more focused and safe. You need to manage your screen time and see how much you are using it for your education or work and how much you are using it for entertainment.”
“Secondly, we need to educate ourselves on certain digital hygiene and cyber etiquettes. This teaches us how to behave in the online space like how to talk, react or comment. This would go a long way in managing the trolling and bullying issues,” she added.
Talking about the steps we need to take to keep ourselves calm amidst the rampant cyber-bullying we might face online, Nirali Bhatia said, “We need to understand the way internet technology is impacting our mind, behaviour, decision-making and all other aspects of life. If we are aware of what kind of emotions the platforms are triggering in us, in terms of our emotional well-being, it would go a long way in managing our emotions. Due to the surge of information coming in very fast it takes away the time to think and logically analyze leading to impulsive behavior. Jealousy, isolation, envy are common emotions triggered by social media. We need to differentiate how much of this virtual world is real and how we can ignore it.”
In a digital world where all our day-to-day actions are done online, let us keep our guard up, come forward and complain, maintain basic cyber hygiene and not get randomly triggered by any content we come across.