Trolling on Instagram photos: Should women restrain from uploading personal pictures?


Image curtsy : Google


Off-late I have been getting to see many incidences of trolling on personal pictures of individuals, especially women on Instagram. These photos may include photos of young women and girls in trendy clothes, showing more skin than expected by orthodox societies. Such pictures may attract the attention of self-acclaimed moral police trolls who wish to condemn women for their choice of outfits; these trolls use extremely harsh words which may even go to the extent of threatening women for their choices. They may even broaden their harassment pattern by sharing the target pictures through different profiles to defame the victims, threat the victims and create many more morphed images of the victims and this may go on till the victims reach a stage to withdraw from the social media. This indeed generates various levels of criminal liability, some of which have been addressed by laws in India. Apart from self-acclaimed moral police trolls, several women have also complained of fashion police trolls who intentionally data mine and troll women, whose fashion sense according to the trolls is not upto the mark. Unlike the moral police trolls, the fashion police trolls  may not create security or life risking threats, but they may definitely target the reputation of the victims and  their self-esteem.


Now let us see what sorts of harm or damage can be done by both types of trolls:
trolling can creation of threat, intimidation
trolls necessarily create posts which are defamatory; these can be teasing remarks  and extremely  insulting comments
trolling can result in reputation damage, violation of privacy, unauthorised access to data, copyright violation (in certain cases)
Trolls are necessarily bullies. But bullying and trolling are not the same. Trolling can be more vicious than bullying. Trolling infact attracts more perpetrators and more victims in the same thread. These victims and perpetrators may not be known to  each other  previously; resultant, the new “victims” who may have joined the thread to support or disagree with the primary victim  may finally put all blames to the primary victim for the victimisation by way of trolling. Trolling is more public than bullying. As such the effects of trolling may be more traumatising than bullying. Trolling can not only damage reputation of the primary victims, trolls may go a long way to harass cyber bystanders or commenters who may support or disagree with the victims as well as with the trolls. The situation worsens if these bystanders or commenters are women; trolls may threaten these secondary victims with legal consequences (for aggravating the issues) which may force the latter to withdraw from social media just like the primary victims.
This may adversely affect women’s usage of Instagram : Instagram unlike Facebook may instantly help the user to get connected with people/group with common interest especially when the user uses the hashtags. The pictures/videos armed with hashtags may help the user to reach a wider audience. Several people including women aspiring to showcase their creativity in fashion industry, upcoming models, actors singers, anchors, performers etc, who use the platform for getting connected with the industry people, mentors and a wider audience, may suffer hugely if trolls attack them on Instagram. Victims may not only feel completely withdrawn, they may also be pulled into unnecessary legal tangles especially if the trolls misuse their pictures which may have been uploaded by the victims for promoting certain brands (which in turn may not appreciate such negative publicity of their product).
        But this in no way should mean that women should restrain from uploading pictures on Instagram. There are several ways to protect the privacy, reputation and the copyright of the pictures of the users :
1.  Women and girls should always opt for privacy options in Instagram. This may reduce the responsibility of the users and increase that of the website. The victims may directly charge the websites for not applying due diligence and  neglecting the security features which should have restricted unwanted people from infringing the privacy and copyrights. Further, in case the women wish to make the profiles open for public and had been harassed/trolled/stalked/unauthorisedly accessed etc, the victims must report the matter to the websites. The websites would not be letting the victim know the about the original identity of the harasser in case the profile is that of unknown person/s; but they would be duty bound to repair the damage, i.e. , restrict the unauthorised circulation of the image of the victim and generating anymore message that may harm the reputation of the victims. S.79(3) of the Information technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008) (exceptions to exemption from liability of intermediary in certain cases)  may be applied in such cases.
2.  Indian laws do not recognise online trolling and bullying as separate offences. This definitely had created problems for proper justice delivery to the victims. However, basing on the modus operandi for trolling several penal provisions may be applied; for instance, S.509 (punishment for harming the modesty of women), 507 (criminal intimidation by anonymous person), 499 and 500 (defamation and punishment for the same), 354D (punishment for stalking including cyber stalking) of the IPC may be used for posting intimidating, insulting, defamatory comments, stalking, creating threats etc.
3.  If trolling results in creation of Fake avatars especially sexually explicit contents, obscene contents etc, and if this involves unauthorised access to data, manipulation of data etc, the police may also apply provisions including Ss. 43(unauthorized access to the computer, data etc) 66 (punishment for computer related offences), 66C (punishment for fraudulently using password, unique identification features etc of any other person), 66D (punishment for cheating by impersonation), 66E (violation of privacy)(incase the picture has been used to create morphed pictures/images), 67 (punishment for creating sexually explicit contents), 67A (punishment for creating obscene contents ) of the Information technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008), S.354C IPC(punishment for voyeurism) etc. Police may also necessarily apply provisions from Indecent representation of women (prohibition )Act, 1986 for indicting the accused for indecent representation of the victim online.
Some of the above mentioned laws are non bailable and cognizable. This means that trolling may not be considered as a simple offence especially if it results in heavy offences including creation of sexually explicit contents ( the contents include not only the images, but the texts as well) etc. As such, women should not refrain from using Instagram fearing trolling. But they must be aware of their rights against trolling and the duties of the websites.
Let us unite against misogynist trolling. Let us spread the message that trolling, its modus operandi and its consequences should not be taken lightly and the criminal justice machinery must emphasise with the victims of trolling.


 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. (2018), ” Trolling on Instagram photos: should women restrain from uploading personal pictures?” 15th January, 2019, published in


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