As the entire world went under lock down, we saw a huge surge of online activities since the first week of March, 2020: several organizations changed their work policy to accommodate work from home policy through cyber space. Schools turned to virtual classes. Universities and colleges sought for conducting webinars, online essay competitions, quiz competitions etc to engage the students. Higher education system also opted for online pedagogy which included online thesis submission, evaluation of the same, online viva voce for Ph.D and Master’s degree evaluation, conducting online sessions on different degree courses, and so on. Resultant, there was a tremendous growth of demand of online meeting platforms which were considered as least essential during normal times. It is but obvious that such platforms started failing participants especially in regard to privacy issues. The WHO guidelines made everyone to rely on online banking, online e-commerce and related transactions and this gave a golden opportunity to the fraudsters to loot people who had to suddenly adapt this digital life culture without properly knowing about digital hygiene, cyber safety issues etc. the government on the other hand insisted on uploading health apps which would give a clear way for mapping and surveilling health of users and also let the user know about the health data (even though in a very minimum scale) of other users residing in near vicinity.
Parents, schools, universities and colleges, administrators, police and the courts have remained busy in ensuring that the dangerous pandemic does not engulf the entire society, the homeless and jobless migratory laborers reach their home place (amidst much chaos) and hospitals and health clinics mandatorily open their doors to patients who may be Covid positive. But no law, government orders or policies may control the minds of people and adolescent children who are either up to take revenge in a sophisticated and ‘smart way’, or to sexually gratify themselves or may have adolescent inquisitiveness about sexual issues. It is not only the Bois Locker room that attracts my attention here: millions of issues of online violence of women and girls have been surfacing now.
I take this opportunity to discuss here what are the women’s rights that had been codified by international instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenants on civil and political rights, socio-cultural -economic rights , Convention on elimination of all sorts of discriminations against women (CEDAW), EU Convention on Cyber Crimes etc. Summing up the rights created/guaranteed /expanded, the following Rights may be considered for understanding how these are supported/violated on the cyber space:
Right to lead a dignified life : This right has been considered as a prime rights as an independent right as well as within the broader meaning of right to life. Right to dignified life may essentially imply that no woman should be considered as a mere sexual object : she should not be subjected to inhuman treatment at home, at workplace or at cyber space. The labour market should not treat her as mere body for sexual enjoyment. She should not be subjected to flesh trade under any circumstances and the workplace should ensure her right to dignified life irrespective of her work profile.
But is this right being upheld on cyber space? several researchers and practitioners including myself had researched upon several patterns of online harassment of women and this may include gender bullying, trolling, doxing, online flesh trade, unauthorised access to device, data, profiles etc, cyber stalking, creation of fake avatars for wide defamation, non-consensual image capturing and sharing, voyeurism, revenge porn, creating and sharing obscene contents targeting women and girls etc. Be it gender bullying, trolling, doxing or cyber stalking, or creating fake avatar or gratifying revenge taking mentality or sharing non-consensual images, it may be seen that women are denied a right to lead dignified life on cyber space. consider the recent case of one TikTok user who had been charged for creating videos showcasing physical assaults, sexual assaults to women and allegedly instigating for physical violence targeting women. Neither Facebook, nor Twitter, nor Instagram, nor YouTube, nor TikTok have taken any measure to control such showcasing of violence and harassment of women. TikTok is flooding with thousands of videos showcasing harassment of women: some show women being beaten, some show women being touched inappropriately, some also show women in indecent manner especially when it come to sharing non-consensual images at public functions, public places etc. YouTube however leads in such cases if I talk about “funny videos” : there are ‘funny wedding falls”, “funny crying brides” “funny garland exchange scenes” to vigorous trolling of women who may show case their culture, homes, cooking skills etc. Several women have also reported cyber stalking by their male colleagues and supervisors at workplace as well. As a cybercrime victim counsellor, I have received hundreds of cases where women have been victimised by way of creating fake avatars, majority of which are of the nature of revenge porn. The laws created to safeguard the right to lead a dignified life for women have also failed them several times: during this lockdown, police may not be able to assist women who may report bullying, doxing or trolling or creation of revenge porn or sextortion etc unless it is attracting a bigger interest like that of Bois locker room case. Several women had been turned down by the police by making them understand that these are trivial offences and the police may not be able to assist them in spite of the fact that such offences may be considered as cognizable.
2.Right against discrimination on the basis of gender, color, creed, race etc: This is considered as a prime right under CEDAW. But women have been vigorously targeted defying this very right. Consider the case of Sara Baartman, who had been an exhibit on the topic of racial and gender discrimination for over two hundred years now: She was bought by white businessmen from South Africa to earn money over showcasing her body shape which was am matter of huge sexual curiosity in Europe during 19th and 20th Century. She died in 1815. But the so called civilized society did not leave Baartman even after her death: her mortal remains and skeleton were kept in Museum of Man in Paris which further attracted visitors to see her mortal remains including her genitalia. It was only in 2002 that the civilized society decided to finally put Sara to rest, but not before making her as a symbol of racial porn icon which still floats on internet. The same lust for black, Latino, Asian, women still can be seen on porn sites which earn huge revenue from the consumers of armature porn, racial porn, black porn etc.
Leaving aside the sexual gratification part, internet and cyber space also host loads of contents and pages which are discriminatory in nature. Almost all the web companies host (knowing or unknowingly) several pages where women from different age group, of different color, belonging to different race, caste or creed and nationality and socio-economic background are constantly bullied, virtually dissected and routinely harassed. Several of such women may not even know that they are being harassed on the cyber space by way of creation of contents which may be in the nature of bullying, trolling, creating racially/sexually abusing still/video contents etc.
3.Right to livelihood: This is the most interesting right that needs to be discussed in this context. Internet has provided different ways of livelihood to women: be it earning money by showcasing different types of skills on YouTube, or by promoting particular brand/s of cosmetics or spices or clothes or electronic items etc, or by being a blogger, content writer etc, women did get a platform to earn money. This however also includes acting on porn platforms. Interestingly, the laws existing in different jurisdictions (barring certain countries), do not hold women criminally responsible if they participate in creating sexually explicit contents which may fulfill certain legal conditions: for example, the said content is created through proper legal mechanism with full consent of the actor, the content creator/host has certified that the same is strictly meant for adult entertainment purposes and has explicitly displayed age restriction in the opening page of the content, has not used any child for creating such contents and has taken due diligence to restrict sharing of such contents to children . But if seen from the perspectives of privacy infringement and related shaming/doxing/defamation perspectives, it may be seen that users of internet may go beyond the aims of tech companies (who would promote the platforms for using it for earning livelihood), to block right to livelihood for women. Thousands of women may have lost their jobs, or job prospects because of revenge porn or nonconsensual porn contents that may have shared knowingly to have unethical gain by perpetrators. The Intellectual property rights of women who may have tried to earn a living by showcasing their skills on the internet, have never been recognized or may have been violated grossly. Again, profiles of some women may also have become a regular source of income for the perpetrators who may illegally use such profiles to dupe others.
4.Right to legal aid and fair hearing: Every individual has an inherent right to access legal help, free legal aid and fair hearing. This applies to perpetrators and victims, men, women, children and people belonging 3rd gender as well. If we speak from the perspective of cyber crime victims, it may be seen that women victims may not always be given proper hearing for different types of online harassment cases. As mentioned above, several types of harassment may be seen as trivial offences. Many of the harassment are neither recognized by laws as criminal offences as well. Even though several international stakeholders including UNICEF has also acknowledged the patterns of online criminal activities like revenge porn, doxing etc, the same could not be added as criminal offences by several Governments for reasons known best to them. This has definitely hampered creation of proper legal and criminal justice infrastructure where the police had remained untrained for dealing with such sorts of victimizations. There are however, several attempts to address certain types of online harassment by pulling legal understandings from different provisions which are not necessarily meant to address the said harassment : for example, the concept of bullying and trolling have been addressed by expanding the scope of defamation and criminal intimidation laws, issue of non-consensual image sharing have been largely covered by voyeurism and copyright laws and the stakeholders have tried to cover revenge porn under the voyeurism, creation/sharing of sexually explicit contents etc. None of these could actually yield fruitful results all over the world. Resultant, we get to see less reporting of the online criminal activities targeting women and even lesser conviction rates.
5.Right to privacy: This may be said to be the basis of all other rights discussed above especially from the perspective of rights on cyber space. The more the digital communication technology progressed, the human society had seen more privacy infringements. The web companies at the beginning had put more emphasis on the negligence of the users/contributors to protect their privacy while the former argued that their platforms provide for privacy and safety setups that are user friendly. But soon it was seen that neither the data bank of the hospitals, the government departments, banks, nor that of the web companies are safe. Women including women users of cyber space are sandwiched between the privacy infringing individual perpetrators, and also the web companies. Privacy on the cyber space has become a myth now. With the growing rate of capturing nonconsensual images and sharing the same on online platforms without permission, it is evident that the concept of privacy on cyber space has expanded its scope to cover the issue of privacy on physical space as well.
But everything is not always dark. NGOs working on awareness building could reach a milestone where women have started understanding that such online harassments actually violate their basic rights. The more the victims would use the reporting mechanism, the more the courts and the law makers would understand the pressing need of making laws and ensuring proper implementation of the same. It is expected that such awareness may lead to larger human rights movements.
Cyber Crimes against women may be of different forms: it may be sexual, whereby the perpetrator may create non consensual image sharing for sexual gratification (which may include rape or sexual assault video sharing), revenge porn contents and may share the same through social media, internet and digital communication technology etc. Further, the perpetrator may also take to cyber platform for carrying on stalking activities, communicating rape and death threats, impersonation, unauthorized access and accessing private contents for further impersonation, defamation of the victim, bullying, including sexual bullying, trolling etc. Several of such crimes against women may have been recognized by the Information Technology Act, 2000(amended in 2008), Indian Penal Code (especially provisions inserted through Criminal Law amendment Act, 2013), Indecent Representation of women Prohibition Act, Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 etc and Protection of children from sexual offences Act (especially when the cyber offences are committed against children) etc. (See for more in Halder D., & Jaishankar, K (2016.) Cyber crimes against women in India.New Delhi: SAGE Publications. ISBN: 9789385985775. and also Halder, D. (2018). Child Sexual Abuse and Protection Laws in India. NewDelhi: SAGE Publications. ISBN: 9789352806843.)
Some of such offences which may be recognized by the Indian Penal Code or any other offences and which may necessarily fall under sexual offences against women (specially under Ss. 376, 354 , 354 A.B.C.D) and under S.509 IPC which prescribes punishment for harming the modesty of women etc, may necessarily be considered as cognizable offences where the officer in Charge of the police station MUST register FIR and initiate investigation procedure. However, on several occasions, the police may refuse to register the FIR, may refuse to even hear the victim or on much instigation, my simply insert the submissions in the General Diary or station diary and may never register the FIR.
A plain reading of S.154 of the Cr.P.C and S.172 Cr.P.C may provide answer to all the above mentioned issues. The discussions in this regard are carried forward in the YouTube link below.
years YouTube has won millions of hearts in India as a social media platform
especially among women. This is because unlike other social media websites, YouTube
has provided a platform to earn money based upon views and subscribers.
Contents uploaded by users may be varied: it can be home decor, power point
presentations of simplified versions of undergraduate subjects, subject lectures
by professional teachers or amateur subject experts, cooking recipes, Do It
Yourself (DIYs), home organisations, daily routines of home makers, technological
solutions, how to do stuffs etc . Several women have used YouTube to earn money
generated through the revenue that YouTube promises once the user can reach some
criteria like getting 1000 subscribers or 4000 watch hours etc. 
YouTube however would not lead the user to create contents that may earn more
watch hours or subscribers. Users may go for market survey to understand which
sorts of videos may attract more views, ,more subscribers etc. mostly new users
including men and women may try to create videos on anything that they feel
proper to share to the world. YouGTube , like Facebook and Instagram has
features for allowing users to create videos for private sharing. This enables
the users to share the video which may be watched only by those whom the
creator chooses. The users may however go for wide circulation of their contents
by not only making the videos public, but also by going live whereby the users may directly communicate
with their subscribers or may share information while live. Even though going Live may be a feature specifically
for improving the relationship between the user and his/her subscribers, live
videos can be watched by the world wide audience even if they are not
subscribers to that particular user. Here, YouTube may not play a vital role to
restrict uploading and sharing the contents unless the subscribers or viewers may flag the content as inappropriate. In short, YouTube may actually provide a wide
platform to share anything including bullying videos, mashed up videos, child and
woman abuse videos, birthing videos, adult sexual interaction videos and so on.
While the adult sexual videos and birthing videos may not be universally accessible
unless the user logs in to his/her YouTube accounts, other sorts of videos are accessible
to all irrespective of age. YouTube however uses the due diligence clause to
escape from any third party liability by providing notification which restricts
children from viewing adult sexual contents or violent contents which may
traumatise children. Hardly this has any
practical implication because children may access these videos by using email
ids which may be created on the basis of fake age , or may even log in through
their parents’ or friends’ email /YouTube ids.
attention here is however attracted to the contents shared by YouTubers: I have
been an avid watcher of YouTube since many years now. I have been following the
changing trends of users in uploading the contents. Earlier it was more on
creating mashed up videos which may have the potentials of violating the copyrights.
Such videos have also been silently encouraged by actors, singers and producers
because these actually publicise their work even though it may violate the
But slowly, the content creators, especially women started becoming reviewers
of products on YouTube as well. This included using of cosmetics, kitchen wares
organisers etc that may be shown in the daily routine videos, home organisation
videos or make up tutorials.
not only get views and subscribers as may be needed for fulfilling the YouTube
monetising criteria, they may also be connected with the brands manufacturing
the products or dealers of the products who may wish to showcase their products
through these non-professional videos. Several urban and rural women home
makers have actually benefitted from this: consider Youtubers like Radhika Real
who may be rural homemakers, but may have made a moderate to comfortable living
because of their YouTube videos advertising about different brands including retailer
brands. Nonetheless, these YouTubers may
also be victims of bullying and trolling for the quality of their videos, their
pronunciation, lifestyle and even house decorations.
While these women may have made a landmark professional/personal achievement because of YouTube, they may unknowingly violate privacy of their own children or even spouses or other family members as they may be showing and informing the worldwide audience about their family members who may not may consent for such wide distribution of images of themselves. These YouTube videos may also be the subject matter of bullying and ridiculing the children of such YouTubers since these may stay on worldwide web for long time. YouTube videos may also create severe domestic violence for several reasons which include live fights between spouses which may be captured by third party YouTubers for fun and uploaded and circulated for getting more views; or airing of grievances by women YouTubers against the other spouses, without knowing the far-reaching consequences etc. These videos may attract huge views and opinions, comments in the nature of cyber bullying and also trolling targeting the YouTuber concerned or supporters of the same. Consider the case of two specific youtubers from Delhi, who are spouses in real life : the wife is a senior YouTuber whereas the husband is a recent Youtuber: They had severe altercations and started living apart. But this was not enough: both used YouTube to throw insults and humiliating words to each other and their teen daughter was allegedly dragged in between. The recent reports suggested that the teenager girl who was staying with her father for couple of months after the separation, was beaten by the latter while on live and her t-shirt was torn in a manner which would show her inner wares. The girl was beaten because she wanted to visit her mother. This video became viral as several supporters of the wife started showing the clippings through their own channels. Some had also informed ChildLine and the police who had rescued the teenager and sent her to her maternal grandmother. There are several other YouTubers who started discussing about incident using the profile name of the husband wife duo. While the news report published in the local news media suggested that the teenager was often beaten by both the parents when they were drunk and she was forced to come on live which she refused many times, the news clipping did not mention about the name of the girl and that of her parents as S.74 of the Juvenile Justice Care and protection Act, 2015 prohibits publication of the identity of the child in need of care and protection or child in conflict with law. The provision reads as below:
S.74. Prohibition of publication of name, etc., of juvenile in conflict with law or child in need of care and protection involved in any proceeding under the Act.-1. No report in any newspaper, magazine, news-sheet or visual media of any inquiry regarding a juvenile in conflict with law or a child in need of care and protection under this Act shall disclose the name, address or school or any other particulars calculated to lead to the identification of the juvenile or child nor shall any picture of any such juvenile or child be published: Provided that for reasons to be recorded in writing, the authority holding the inquiry may permit such disclosure, if in its opinion such disclosure is in the interest of the juvenile or the child. 2. Any person who contravenes the provisions of sub-section (1), shall be liable to a penalty which may extend to twenty-five thousand rupees.
Now, let us understand the scope of this provision in the light of this particular case: the first subsection prohibits any report including news report, inquiry etc from disclosing the name, information etc of the concerned child. The second proviso extends the scope to ‘anyone’ who may contravene the prohibitory scope of S.74. Seen from the perspective of electronic media and the concept of citizen journalism, which gives every one right to share information, the term ‘anyone’ may literally include anyone including the good Samaritans who may have wanted to alert the concerned authorities, share their opinion against such acts of women and child abuse. Further, note the words “any other particulars calculated to lead to the identification of the juvenile or child nor shall any picture of any such juvenile or child be published” mentioned in the first sub clause. This may include the name of the concerned child and names of the parents. But apparently, this provision became a just a paper tiger in this case because those who had watched or subscribed to the videos of the couple had already known about the identity of the teenager because of the daily Lives put up by the parents and discussion about the girl in the videos posted by them. If one visits the comment section of the recent videos of both the parents in the recent past, it would be seen that commenters have taken the name of the girl, asked about her whereabouts and in some cases, some had also suggested about her changed behaviour after she had stayed with her respective parents separately. Nothing is confidential for those thousands of worldwide audiences now who had watched the parents daily and who had also witnessed the Live video where the girl was beaten up by the father. In spite of repeated request by the mother of the girl, several YouTubers still did not take down videos mentioning about the name of the father (which broadly falls within the meaning of “any other particulars calculated to lead to the identification of the juvenile or child”) when this writeup was published. While the Juvenile Justice Care and Protection and Act provides a base rule, the concerned YouTubers may not be held solely responsible because the parents already violated the privacy of the teenager and encouraged thousands to watch the couple fight which had every potential to attract penal provisions for using words etc for harming the modesty of the wife under S.509 Indian Penal Code as well as defamation of both the wife and the husband under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code. YouTube on the other hand has not taken down the videos of either of the spouses or that of the other YouTubers which may showcase the names of the parents and the child because it is guided by First Amendment of the US which may hardly be affected unless YouTube has been approached to take the videos down by concerned stakeholders.
It is now
a typical love triangle of three parties : YouTube, which is loved by all for
providing such an open platform for airing opinions and consumption of real
life family dramas, the YouTubers who may expect to get support, views,
popularity and money because of participating in the trolling and independent
discussions on such issues which may rip open privacy of general individuals including
children and criminal justice machinery, most of whom may never know how to
manage legalities of YouTube videos because they are completely ignorant of
this new type of electronic media.
But this is
not a unique incident that attracts the attention of legal researchers,
especially privacy law and speech law researchers. YouTubers, especially women YouTubers
continue to violate privacy knowingly or unknowingly and provide more opportunity
to trolls, bullies and offline perpetrators to victimise them because they may
not be aware about the netiquettes of YouTube. Time has come that YouTube users
become cautious of the contents uploaded by them and legalities attached with
such uploading and sharing. In this festive season YouTube content uploading
and sharing may have seen a steep rise. But it is upon YouTubers to control
what must be shared and may not.
is more powerful than televisions, more demanded than movies and more
devastating than what is generally apprehended.
example see Halder D., & Jaishankar K. (2016) Celebrities and Cyber Crimes:
An Analysis of the Victimization of Female Film Stars on the Internet. Temida –
The journal on victimization, human rights and gender. 19(3-4), 355-372
Online trolling is one of the most prominent types of cyber victimization of women in the present age and it is least taken care of by criminal justice machinery. It is indeed the most prevalent form of abuse against women and it’s an alarming human rights issue. Online abuse of women may include various forms including bullying, trolling, stalking, misogynist comments, racial bullying etc. Trolling have heavy potential of damaging honor or reputation of women. Trolling can be defined as ‘an extreme usage of freedom of speech which is exercised to disrupt the community discussions in social networking sites and which is done to deliberately insult ideologies such as feminism, secularism etc.; of the topic starter or the supporters of the topic starter.’ In this digital era, most people consider internet as a podium which provides them the anonymity to victimize others. As a result, the potential perpetrator including the troll is often encouraged to create more havoc with the victim’s life and freedom. Unfortunately, the internet has always been a hostile place for women. Trolling including misogynistic trolling is one of the worst forms speech which has often escaped the clutches of law due to carious reasons . Trolling not only infringes privacy of the victims, it also affects women’s right to participate in economic, social and political affairs. Women in India have reported facing severe online abuse on the socio-verbal platform #Twitter. Trolls have used racial, sexist, homophobic or misogynist to belittle or degrade women’s identity or social status. In most instances, trolls may be complete strangers who would come up for trolling for fun . Unfortunately there is no focused law for regulating trolls or trolling. The exact nature and scale of online abuse by women because of trolling in the Indian context is still under-researched. Amnesty International’s Decoding Project, “Troll Patrol India” is currently researching on this very issue. This project is encouraging researchers/ volunteers to analyse the nature of trolling and report the trolls . It has been noticed that pre and post general elections 2019 in India, there were huge incidents of trolling targeting women including female politicians, journalists, lawyers etc . The social media platforms such as Twitter where the instances of online abuse are most prevalent, need to take responsibility of protecting human rights of women to ensure that women using this platform are able to freely and fearlessly express their thoughts. The Troll Patrol India Project has engaged over 1500 Decoders from all over the country that has analyzed over 4 lakh comments that include homophobic language, explicit sexist, racist, ethnic or religious slurs. Misogynist, racist trolling is showing no sign of slowing down especially towards the women. Amnesty International’s Decoding Project aims to research on typology of abusive Tweets targeting women. The project will form a considerable pool of research to impart light on how these trolls may dissuade women from freely posting their views on online platforms such as Twitter. In recent times, there have been many ‘women in tech’ initiatives, and things are changing ponderously but it is important to make the internet a safer platform for women. After all, it is necessary to protect the freedom of speech and expression of every woman by ensuring them their online privacy and a safe online environment. The need of the hour is to tackle online violence against women very seriously to uphold women and their enshrined rights in India. Surely, the intermediaries must have to play a bigger role in reaching out to this balance to provide women their online safety.
Bhati. BBA-LLB, 3rd year, Unitedworld School of Law, Karnavati
University. The author is also a project member (Amnesty Decoder) of the
Amnesty Decoding Project, Amnesty International India. The author
can be reached @ firstname.lastname@example.org
**This write up has been conceptualized by
the author from the Amnesty Decoding Project.
 Halder, D.
(2013). Examining the scope of Indecent Representation of Women (Prevention)
Act, 1986 in the light of cyber victimization of women in India. National
Law School Journal, Vol. 11, 118-218 at p. 196.
In a late afternoon in the last week of February, 2019 I received a message from Ministry of Women & Child Affairs, Government of India congratulating me for winning the #webwonderwomen award in the category of Legal/policy . #Webwonderwomen is an initiative of Ministry of women & Child, BreakThrough India, an NGO which works for women and girls and Twitter to honor 30 women from diverse fields who had used Twitter positively for spreading awareness, reaching out to people in need and above all, advocating for women empowerment. Among the 30 women were women activists, lawyers, journalists, sanitation & public health activists, food blogger & nutritionist, film maker, activist promoting breast-feeding, women government officials and myself, who works for victims, especially women victims of cyber crimes. There were different heartwarming as well as heart breaking stories told by award winners ; they shared stories of failures and success, happiness and pain, the feeling of being ridiculed by others because of their support to other women. No wonder, I have also gone through the same while executing my wish to help victims of cyber crimes: I have been cyber bullied, stalked, trolled and threatened by men and women for my work . I have been asked ridiculous questions regarding my “attachment” with the virtual world. Finally with this award, I could prove that being on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or on internet as a whole for more than the time allotted for general women by their families and societies is not that bad. I have an “unlimited” (in regard to time) access to net and my husband respects my time on net. I am fortunate to make this space. I have seen many women who are not allowed to be on net for more than a limited period by their families especially men folk, who may be enjoying (consuming) avatars of other women when their women enter the ‘restricted time period’ for net surfing on a daily basis.
This women’s day is special because as #webwonderwomen awardee I have become a proud ambassador of the Ministry of women and children affairs like my fellow award winners. This is also special because on the very day when I received the award, I saw nothing changed when it comes to cyber crimes against women. While going through the newspaper that very morning, I noticed two news items which made me think how womens day becomes meaningless for several thousands of women victims of cyber crimes : one was regarding a gang rape survivor who came across the clipping of her own rape scene and dared to walk into the police station to report not only about the physical rape, but also about the virtual consumption of her physical assault by many. The second was about duping of a woman in a renowned matrimonial site . None of these incidents is new for me. However, I salute the rape survivor who took the matter to the police. She must have undergone severe secondary victimization and traumatization by now just like the other victim that I mentioned above. We do not know what would happen to them later: how far the police and prosecution may help them ? with a limited legal awareness and fear of societal taboo, many victims like these two have to withdraw their cases and disappear.
Women’s day is necessarily related to The Convention on elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), which was adopted by the UN general Assembly in 1979 and which defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” The scope of this definition has automatically expanded to include gender discrimination, misogyny and abuse of women’s rights online. I was more interested in the award ceremony because of Twitter as its partner. Social media like Twitter, Faceook , Instagram, YouTube etc are used for women empowerment. But they are notorious platforms for victimization of women. This year’s theme for International women’s day is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change” , which signifies women empowerment in the field of technology and innovative work by women and men alike for gender equality and betterment of situation of women across the globe. This won’t fructify unless web companies take the responsibility of providing safety against gross abuse of women. As women activists, many of us know that there more takers of CEDAW; but how many States are actually ensuring proper implementation of laws especially for women victims of cybercrimes is a question that needs to be researched. There is no uniform law to recognize several cyber offences against women. Majority of countries have no laws for prevention of cyber bullying, stalking, impersonation of women, online sexual offences targeting women. Sexting and revenge porn still fall in the grey line in majority of the countries. It is still considered a taboo for women to watch porn ; women who are caught watching porn/porn contents are severely moral policed by the society . But on the other hand, when men watch porn including revenge porn and nonconsensual porn, it is still considered as normal because unless the websites flag them as illegal , men (and in certain cases women and children too) may not be prevented even by the courts because apparently the victims would not have moved the police and / or the courts for taking action to take down the offensive contents . Majority of these victims may be completely unware of the fact that they have been made subjects of online consumption as ‘sex items’. Consider the case of socio-economically poor women who may be trafficked and their videos of having sexual activities may be floating for many years without making them understand how they are being ‘consumed’ by millions.
“Think equal, build smart, innovate for change” would be possible only when the society including the government stakeholders as a whole come together to take a holistic step towards preventing cyber victimization of women and creating safe place for women and girls online and in real life.
Wish you all, a very happy WOMEN’S DAY . Lets “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”.
 See for example Halder D., & Jaishankar, K. (2014). Online Victimization of Andaman Jarawa Tribal Women: An Analysis of the Human Safari YouTube Videos (2012) and its Effects. British Journal of Criminology, 54(4), 673-688. (Impact factor 1.556). DOI: 10.1093/bjc/azu026.
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 http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com
In the fag end of May, 2018, news channels flashed the story of Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi, the army man who is hero to some and villain to some because of his controversial act of tying a Kashmiri man to a jeep using him as a human shield against the stone –pelters who were targeting army actions in Kashmir last year. He became (in)famous to many because the clippings of his controversial act became viral on the web. He grabbed the headlines again this month because of his controversial Facebook friendship with a Kashmiri woman who, the media says was trying to check inwith the Major and another person in a local hotel in Kashmir. It was reported that the said woman had claimed that she knew the Major through Facebook and his account was not in his real name. We know that social media including Facebook is used for secret surveillance by the government agencies and it has positive and negative aspects as well. Fake accounts are used by the police to detect and trap criminals including paedophiles, fraudsters and even terrorists.
But here, I am not actually concerned about pattern of use of social media by the government officials. I am concerned about professional ethics of certain categories of government servants who may not be allowed to befriend common people like what social media offers. This category may include judges belonging to higher and lower judiciary, government officials belonging to certain all India services including group A and B of central services etc.
Let me explain it broadly here:
Since ancient times judges are considered to be of high moral and judiciary is considered to be “an institution of integrity”. Several judgements including K.P.Singh vs. High Court of H.P. &ors,High Court of Judicature for Rajasthan vs. Ramesh Chand Paliwal,Tarak Singh vs. Jyoti Basu,etc had established the fact that judges are expected to be like hermit, they should be honest and should “adhere to a code of moral value”.In short, they should be inapproachable personally but approachable as an institution to be impartial. What does this mean? Judges cannot be on par with general individuals who may approach the institution of justice, i.e., the courts for seeking justice. They should not make themselves individually or privately approachable so that the possible litigants, who may approach their courts, may not influence him. It is the principle of fair justice which to a large extent governs the code of conduct of judges. But we need to remember that in this era of social media, any individual can hardly be out of the net . While it is still expected that judges should not make themselves privately approachable, I myself have loads of Facebook friends who are in the judiciary. They share opinions, their personal photos with their chosen friends just like any other individual. But yes, their circle of friends may not be as big as any other common social media user. Many of them are directly connected with the Facebook pages of District legal services authorities, which not only spread awareness about legal rights, but also showcase performances of the particular government offices.However, I do not have Facebook friends from higher judiciary, but nonetheless, many of “Their Lordships” may be easily approachable because of digital messaging services like WhatsApp, which may be used to create ‘groups’ as well.World wide this has become a cause of concern now; it has been suggested by many that judges while in service, should try to avoid social media as this may pull them in unnecessary trouble and make floodgates open for questioning their integrity.But again, we can neither ignore the strong (social media) presence of judges like Justice Markendey Katzu, former Supreme Court judge who had courted controversy because of his blog posts, social media posts for strong criticism of court decisions.Doesn’t this show that he may still be considered as falling in the ‘restricted netizen’ category even as a retired judge? Probably yes because he may never be seen as a general individual who may criticise judges and their judicial understanding of cases by virtue of his being a judge himself who is expected to not to lower the respect the judiciary; probably no, because he may still use his right to speech and expression to express his displeasure for the judgements which according to him, are not fare. But still then, he could not be equal to general individuals: the court questioned his act towards publishing post in social media criticising court’s decision in crucial cases like the final verdict of the sensational case of Soumya, who was killed by her rapist.
High level civil servants including bureaucrats, officers of Indian Police Services etc have a high presence in the social media too. Most of their accounts may be private accounts. But there are several pages of their offices which may be made by their respective offices. This actually shows that even though the government and the courts continue to question data policy of social media companies like Facebook or Twitter, these social media sites are very much involved in government outreach mechanisms: for example, see the websites of certain city police offices/headquarters; all may show their Facebook presence. http://ahmedabadcitypolice.org/, https://www.bcp.gov.in/ ,http://www.tnpolice.gov.in/CCTNSNICSDC/Index?0 ; all may have their Facebook and twitter pages where individuals may access for information and even to reach out concerned police offices for immediate lodging of complaints. But private accounts of IAS or IPS officers are not connected with these pages. This means that they have a separate private presence in the social media. Their friends, their posts and their photographs are their private affairs just like any other general individual who may use social media sites for reaching out to friends. But still, they may not be out of surveillance for their conduct in their private social media accounts. Their children may also be held accountable for sharing parents’ pictures which may raise questions about their integrity: erstwhile J&K DIG Beig invited hoards of controversy when his son posted certain pictures of his dad which raised media storm because the posts suggested that Beig was abusing power.Even though the son removed the posts, the pictures and hashtags were made viral and they are still available on internet.It may actually mean that these officers may not have a private life even in social media. Gogoi in the same way, may also not have that privacy even if he may claim that he and the woman in question personally knew each other and this friendship was neither professional, nor was an abuse of power for harassing the girl offline or online.
In short, why such friendships between officers and civilians, their online presence and activities may raise questions at all? Misuse of power to harass and exploit civilians especially women could be one primary reason for such enthusiasm. But in case the friendships are genuine, posts by the officials reflect their personal and independent opinions and photographs shared in their social media sites are personal memoire , why they should be targeted and who makes these posts (in)famous for public and media? It is those ‘friends’ who may knowingly or unknowingly feed the enthusiastic ‘third persons’ by sharing /showing the private posts that may appear in their time line feeds. Remember Merin Joseph, the young IPS officer from Kerala who being a police officer herself, could not remain safe online? She had to encounter fake profiles with her picture, trolls and misogynist posts even though she was sharing some posts as a private person and not as an on duty officer. Trolls attacked herposts and albums, some of which were not for public viewing. Privacy may be myth for these public servantsespecially when they are activein their privatesocial media accounts. Compared to 1990’s public servants have become more accountable now because of their web presence. After each UPSC result declarations, the social media accounts of successful candidates may immediately come into lime light. It works positively because their conduct becomes more transparent to public; it works negatively because they may slowly lose privacy being within the private social media account. The very much private personssuddenly come under lime light as not only the common people , but also the media starts data miningto know them more than what is expected to be known. One name which comes in my mind right now is of Sandeep Nanduri, IAS, who is presently the District magistrate and collector of Tuticorin district. He had taken over as DM and collector Tutircorin at a very crucial time when the district was having agitation over Sterlite copper industries plant closure issue. Nanduri’s Facebook account may reveal his activities as a government official as well as a private individual. This may further mean that not only he himself, but his wife may also be targeted by trolls, stalkers and miscreants who may wish to approach him.
Untill now there is no clear-cut code of conduct framed for restricting judges and grade A and B officers of central government or even state government services from using social media (exceptfor certain issues like restriction from spreading hatred, criticising the government in certain key issues, leaking confidential data etc) and befriending common people. They however may have to rely on the social media policies for data protection. But again, in such cases, they may be held responsible for choosing their virtual friends. We should not forget that there are instances of honey trapping of government officials by ISI secret services; this may however show that privacy of the government officials may easily be breached if they themselves are not vigilant enough for their social media ‘friends’. There are clearly two arguments which may made in this regard: (i) such government servants may be completely barred from making themselves available to ‘public’ through their private social mediaaccounts , (ii) being part of digital India movement they must be approachable to people through social media as well. However, considering the privacy and security aspects, I feel it is high time that governmentmakes a clearpolicy as how they should be protected from predators and how they should conduct even when they are ‘privately public’.
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),“Judges, cops and civil servants: Can they have Social media friends in reality?”3rd June, 2018, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com
Very recently I came across the news of a victim of domestic violence who had been badly physically abused. All attempts to hide the bruises in her face were failed. She was in pain for several days before she could actually gather herself up to join the daily chores of life by her sheer will power. When some of us, her well wishers advised her to report the matter to the police immediately, she retreated. Her sole concern was to protect the family. The case seems similar to many of the domestic violence cases in India as well as in many parts of south Asia where the victim refuses to see the police in fear of losing the faith in her ‘dear ones’. The story is no different for on line abuses. Many women are constantly abused on-line by their own family members, especially doubtful husbands, or someone in whom they once had deep trust, like the ex boyfriends or the ex husbands. In the digital space, it is extremely easy to spoil the image of the woman. Show her actual picture with dirty tag-line, morph her picture to affix her face on nude bodies, show the pictures of vagina and emboss her name on it, rape her virtually by affixing human hands on the picture of her body parts, especially breasts and lower abdomen and allure others to do the same……. these are some of the examples of abusing the image of a woman which had been discussed by many feminist researchers in their write ups including me in my paper titled “Examining the scope of Indecent Representation of Women (Prevention) Act, 1986 in the light of cyber victimisation of women in India (See Halder Debarati, Examining the Scope of Indecent Representation of Women (Prevention) Act, 1986 in the Light of CyberVictimization of Women in India (May 25, 2013). National Law School Journal,Vol. 11, 2013, pp. 188-218 . Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2270061). But no wonder, majority of the victims feel extremely embarrassed to visit the police. Why? The case of this particular victim of domestic abuse made me realise the truth again; the woman has to live in the society where her relatives including her father, brother or even husband or even her women folk are also staying. They may never like to be tagged as the relative of a victim of on-line abuse, especially when many still believe that on-line abuses such as these mostly occur due to the victim’s own (mis)deeds. Many victims retreat from reporting the crime in fear for loss of job and loss of reputation not for them, but for the family members including the husband in case he is the abuser himself. Some even fear for loss of reputation of the girls in the family in the marriage market. In some cases, the fear is not baseless especially when the police starts tracing the crime and haunts the offices or workplaces of the accused, who may be directly related to the victim or her family. Also, the police have almost set a trend to tag such crimes as either pornographic crimes, or obscene or sexually harassing crimes… all of which may bring shame to the victim when she is asked about it in the typical questioning pattern set for physical crimes falling under the broad title of sexual crimes. Thanks to the confused laws, less interest of legal drafts men ,the police authorities and the criminal justice machinery in reviewing recent academic researches on the new developments of international as well as national laws, the young and enthusiastic police officers (who are rare in number) never get any chance to book the offences as per their own judgements and the crimes continue to add to the categories of traditionally laid down definitions, giving less chances to examine their true characters. But unlike the physical cases of image destroying of the victim by hitting her and bruising her face, cutting her skin and flesh and permanently damaging her looks, where the accused could be arrested or the victim could be separated from the accused, in cases of on-line crimes of image destruction, the accused may remain hidden or may carry on further damages while the police carry on further investigation. This is extremely frustrating for the victim. Then comes the juggling of the jurisdiction in cases where the accused reside outside the jurisdiction of the local police. While the Criminal Procedure Code clearly empowers the police to carry on the investigation in such cases, red tapism never leaves. A married woman never wants to lose her time in such tangle especially when she has to look after her children, her job and her family. Resultant, either she herself leaves the battle ground with deep frustration which may even lead her to commit suicide, or may take up some illegal ways to remove the image quickly. The actual image destroyer enjoys his misdeeds with no repent.
But time has come when women, especially married women must take time to save their own physical images rather than saving the image destroyer. Let us hope that the courageous women may face the situation more bravely to save themselves.
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. (2013), “Protect your image, not the image destroyer”, 3rd September,2013, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com/
The IT act 2000 doesnot mention any thing about the safety of the women in the net. As such it does not speak about the typical cyber crimes that can be commiteed against women. well, analysing chapterXI of the IT Act , it could be seen crime against women in the net can be of morte than one type , namely email harassment, cyber stalking, cyber stalking, cyber sex, cyber defamation and so on. but unfortunately women are defence less in the cyberspace.