Increased internet penetration has also led to an increase in social media crimes, the most common being cyber defamation, bullying and trolling. I myself faced all three attacks on a WhatsApp Information Security Group just two days ago. This made me to look into the mindset, causes and reasons why forums on the internet are riddled with these issues today.
India is a democratic country, and each of us is conferred with the Right to Life, Freedom of Speech and Expression, and any individual who seeks to obstruct this right is violating our basic fundamental rights, which is a breach of the very foundation of the principles of our Constitution.
The internet has made the world smaller and the outreach of people has increased, making slander and libel way more convenient with a single comment or post read by hundreds of members of an online forum compared with the pre-internet times, where it required a lot more effort to malign anyone.
We Are A Judgmental People
The increased proximity of people on different online platforms and forums is also a result of the "Crab Mentality", where people decide to become judges of other people's lives, actions and achievements and try to pull them down. A healthy attitude would be to rise above competition and others through your own hardwork rather than try to pull others down. This is commonly seen with Bollywood celebrities, who are massively trolled, abused and bullied online simply because they are rich and famous. Priyanka Chopra was recently trolled and bullied for marrying a man younger to her in age. Shahrukh Khan's daughter was trolled for wearing a swimming costume. Amitabh Bachchan was trolled for bursting crackers on Diwali. Aishwarya Rai was bullied for kissing her daughter.
The list is endless.
Women are bullied more than men online, which clearly reflects the social mindsets and prejudices still existing in India.
Today even in India many women marry men younger than them. Why then are they bullied online? The answer is crab mentality— Priyanka is successful and rich, something many people yearn for and the internet with its ability in giving proximity and anonymity is a perfect platform for people to belittle another only to feel good about themselves.
This online trend is not only alarming but highly disturbing, as we are becoming a society of intolerant, jealous and judgmental people. This trend has led to increase in depression and suicidal tendencies among people of all age groups, the most vulnerable being children.
Today children have easy access to the internet and are members of social media sites and WhatsApp groups, which renders them vulnerable as they are yet to face the pressures of the world and learn to cope with them. Even children not spared.
Here Is What You Should Do
Victims need to know that our law has remedies to tackle online defamers, trolls and bullies.
Under Section 499 read with section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, Cyber Defamation is punishable with simple imprisonment up to two years or fine or both. Mental Harassment is punishable under the Indian Penal Code too.
If a woman is being threatened by a person who has the intention to harm her reputation or alarm her, the latter would be punished with two years under Section 503 of the Indian Penal Code. A victim should file an FIR in the police station of local jurisdiction and let the law take its course.
In my opinion, we need more explicit laws under the Information Technology Act too to cover these offences, as Section 66A did cover these offences. However, this was struck down as it had a certain level of ambiguity in terms of its language and application.
I will also soon launch "Stop Cyber Bullying", a nationwide awareness program. Memberships are open.
We need to create a productive and happy new generation in our country. A generation packed with victims and bullies is not desirable. Every individual must decide against being be judgmental and adopt responsible use of the internet and its available platforms.
Puneet Bhasin is a cyber law and privacy law expert. She is the founder and president of Cyberjure Legal Consulting and Cyberjure Academy.