CYBER CRIME AGAINST WOMEN BY DEBARATI HALDER
When the image of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who was found lying dead on a sea shore in Turkey surfaced on internet, social media including Twitter were flooded with posts expressing concerns for war refugees. One of the worst causes of destruction of human civilisation is definitely the war. When as a young student I used to read about World Wars, I used to believe that wars are parts of history and this would never occur in modern age. But my childish thoughts were smashed with growing up years when I learnt that wars in different forms still exist and they are more devastating than before. The television channels used to show live broadcasting of soldiers preparing for counter attack in borders and like many other young women I often used to think that such reporting are done by men. But I was proved wrong. Be it Barkha Dutt’s reporting on Kargil war between India and Pakistan or her coverage of 2008 Taaj attack in Mumbai , like many other girls, we knew Barkha as a reporter meant to cover risky areas. Remember Maya Mirchandani , the reporter who was one of the last to cover Sri Lankar President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s campaign rally when the Kumaratunga was hurt due to bomb explosion ? Following female journalists like Barkha or Maya, many female journalists came up to take this venture of reporting war crimes, political hooliganism, scams etc literally risking their lives. Among these brave women brigade, I have my own cousins who have also suffered physical injuries in the course of their duties.
But with the advent of digital communication technology, attacks on women journalists have become more organised, personal and also patterned. Sagarika Ghosh, one of the senior most women journalists in India was one of the worst victims of Twitter trolls. In my BBC interview (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-22378366) regarding attacks on women on social media I expressed my anguish over the issue of lack of empathy and sympathy from the part of criminal justice machinery to the female victims, especially in case of trolling or bullying, even if they are celebrities . Undoubtedly, this is a major cause which motivates the perpetrators to abuse such women. In my recent publication titled “A retrospective analysis of S.66A: Could S.66A of the Information Technology Act be reconsidered for regulating “bad talk” in the internet?” Published in Indian Student Law Review (ISLR), 2015(1), pp 98-128, I took up Sagarika’s case as a prime example as how women may be victimised online irrespective of their position in the society. They may also be targeted by misogynist posts including online sexual abuse. The reasons may vary from professional jealousy from own colleagues, workplace harassment to even dislike by members of particular group or organisation, who may motivate supporters to individually attack the women concerned online. The very recent case of the Delhi Journalist Swati Chaturvedi, who became a victim of sexist trolling allegedly by another senior journalist may be seen as a good example in this case( http://indiasamvad.co.in/6524/showstory/Beware-of-sexist-remarks-Delhi-journo-to-become-first-to-be-arrested-for-Twitter-trolling). But it would be wrong to presume that such atrocities happen only in India. Consider the case of Sharmila Seyyid, a SriLanka based war crime reporter; because of her work, she was attacked online and once Twitter and other social media were also used to spread the news of her death and the morphed picture which showed her raped. She was very much alive but these tricks were taken up to send her death threats and make her family feel extremely insecure about her life (See http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/sharmila-seyyid-online-trolling-death-threats/article7109863.ece). But she is not the only one Sri Lankan female reporter to be victimised online. Another Sri Lankan war crime reporter named Dilshy Banu, who is also the writer of four books, was also attacked online. Dilshy, unlike other women was not trolled in the social media. But whenever anyone searches her name with the key words of her name, the search engine gets flooded with web links of pornographic sites which has her name with a slight change in the spelling. Dilshy contacted me for help and permitted me to use her case study. It is unfortunate that similar to many other women journalists, Dilshy’s name has been added to vicious misogynist posts on internet and these web links may stay for a long time like those ugly posts targeting other women journalists, which are still floating in some sites, unless search engines themselves pull down those web links. on a positive side,the number of such links showing porn contents which are tagged with Dilshy’s name are reducing. But the process is slow. But as may be seen, such act of pulling down of misogynist posts needs the cooperation not only from the NGOs, but also from the criminal justice machinery where the victim should report the crime for getting a legal recognition of the offence, the search engines as the intermediaries and of course the general public who may help these brave women by ‘positive Google bombing’. It is understandable that like India, many other south Asian countries including Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan etc may not have well developed laws to prevent cyber misogyny targeting women; and even if they do, the foreign based intermediaries may need to work more cooperatively to help prevent such sorts of victimisation since the viral nature of the offensive posts may make the individual stake holders almost impossible to erase them completely. It is unfortunate to note that this may be one of the reasons that more orthodox countries including Iran etc, periodically block many websites including Google or may even create prohibitory sanctions for using internet.
It is understandable that all of us have freedom of speech and expression and as I mentioned in my article on S.66A, the courts, not only in India, but all over the world, are slowly expanding the scope of free speech guarantee. The latest example is obviously the Elonis decision in the US on which I wrote my blog @ http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.in/2015/06/the-elonis-decision-why-would-indian.html. But that does not mean that people can take internet or digital communication technology to continue attack on women, including journalists.
Let us join hands to stop online victimisation of women irrespective of jurisdiction.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2015), “Cyber misogyny of female journalists”, 9th September, 2015, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com/