Recently, the virtual abuse of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, for supporting an interfaith couple, drew attention to the chilling phenomenon of ‘trolling’ that has seen an exponential rise since the advent of social media. The minister suffered not just verbal, but also relentless sociopathic, emotional slander.
In a way, it has been a democratising trend. No one is spared. Anyone who holds a point of view that is different from that of the establishment or the troller has been subject to continuous, intense harrassment and verbal assault on online platforms. A number of well-known names such as Barkha Dutt and Shashi Tharoor have faced the same, while others like Gurmehar Kaur actually became well-known due to trolling. Most of the comments are so venomous that a recent series of attacks on journalist-writer Rana Ayyub found her reacting tearfully, admitting that she “couldn’t talk or sleep for three days.”
In a democracy difference of opinion is but natural. Pls do criticise but not in foul language. Criticism in decent language is always more effective.
— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) July 1, 2018
Worryingly, anyone who thinks differently, not in line with a certain ideology, institution or establishment, seems to be under attack today. The National Crime Records Bureau documents all such cases under a general category of cyber crimes. There were more than 33,531 cases of cyber attacks cases during 2014-16.
Who are trolls?
But anyway, who are these trolls and why are they creating worries?
‘Trolls’ actually describe characters from fantasy literature – most recently the Harry Potter series – and seem almost cute, compared to the vicious beings that are spreading vitriol and setting the Internet on fire.
Trolls typically stalk, harass or bully a person, a group of people or an organization. They may throw lies, fake accusations, dominating attitudes, issue threats, refer to identity theft, damage data or equipment, engage in soliciting, or gather information to harass and belittle people. They send incendiary or abusive messages, electronic viruses or even e-mails to those who do not toe their line of thinking.
But in an age when such instances are reaching alarming proportions, what does one do? Just retract and move on? Or is there hope to be found in the law of the land?
What we have seen so far
Recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Indian government announced plans to train 27,500 police personnel in line with a scheme for Cyber Crime Prevention against Women and Children (CCPWC) from ‘Nirbhaya’ funds in 2017-2020. But so far, there has not been any significant action on cyber misuse.
Last week, for the first time, a BJP accountant, Girish Maheshwari, was arrested in Ahmedabad, when he threatened to rape the minor daughter of Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi over a fake post. However, he was booked not directly under any online abuse laws but under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offence Act, and only under the orders of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
What can you do?
If you too have faced or are subjected to trolling and abuse, what can you do to stop the bullying? Do you feel helpless and harassed?
You might be a child, a differently-abled person, or an underprivileged person who actually feels guilty and upset about being the victim, rather than the oppressor. If so, contact your parent, guardian, teacher or any other trusted adult.
If you are an adult and wondering what you can do about it, then start with the following steps:
- First of all, understand the bullies. Most bullies have sociological, psychological or deep-seated mental issues, with roots in past history of sexual abuse, mental illness, or problems with their sexual identity. Is it possible to identify, understand and engage them? Maybe you can begin to deal with them, with some gentle handling, to find out the background of their problems. Even though that sounds too good to be true, you never know. They might be borderline attention-seekers who find it good enough to be cossetted a bit and then leave. However, this needs a judgmental call — both with regard to the issue and the nature of bullying — and if they have been particularly vitriolic and threatening, this may not be the right course of action.
- You might think that if you keep quiet about it, the trolls would just run their course and stop. But don’t. Speak up. Don’t let them harass you, and don’t assume that if you keep quiet about it, he or she would tire of the pastime and slink away. They won’t. So talk and act.
- Block out the bully from Google Chat, Facebook or Twitter. It would be best to block the posts or messages that harass and intimidate you.
- But save the evidence. Especially if the chats, posts and messages from the stalkers are hurtful and harassing. Once you compile the visual information that indicates the bully’s behaviour, you have foolproof evidence on your side. If the bully sends you hurtful or threatening chats, posts or emails, do not delete them. Having a written record of such behaviour will give you the proof that you need to have any action initiated against them.
- Report the bullies to the service providers and the platform; be specific about your complaints. A vulgar, offensive or annoying stalker can just be banned from Facebook if you report him or her.
How to lodge a cyber crime complaint
Cyber crime, including trolling, has no jurisdiction. Any cyber crime can be reported to the cyber crime units of a city, irrespective of the place where the offence is committed.
If you have anything to report, you need to try and identify your closest Cyber Crime Cell here.
You can also try to contact a well-known cyber crime lawyer who can help you file a complaint either at a cell, or online. Your lawyer would also help you to share some facts when you call the cyber crime helpline number.
These are the steps you need to take:
- Submit an application letter addressing the chief of the cyber crime investigation cell
- State your facts with your name, address and contact number
- Attach or annex documents according to the type of cyber crime, against which you are reporting your complaint
- Attach a copy or screenshot of the profile or content that you are objecting to
- Fix a screenshot of the URL, linking the offensive content
- Add hard and soft copies of the content
- You can submit the soft copy in a CD-R
If you are not able to find a cyber cell in your locality, you can file an FIR in your local police station. Any police station can file an FIR. If you face any hurdles in filing an FIR, you can contact the commissioner or judicial magistrate of your city.
A few sections under the IT Act or the Indian Penal Code (IPC) may be pertinent to your complaint. You may even want to discuss these with your lawyer to figure out your best chances of redress.
- Section 67: Publishing or transmitting obscene material electronically
- Section 67A: Publishing or transmitting sexually explicit content in electronic form
- Sec. 66E: Violating privacy by publishing a visual image of anyone in print or electronic form can be punished with three years imprisonment or Rs 2 lakh fine.
- Section 509 IPC: Any word, gesture or act that would insult a woman’s modesty. It could imprison the guilty offender to paying a fine and three years of imprisonment.
- Section 499 IPC: Defamatory messages transmitted through e-mail, or visible representations publicising imputation of a woman in order to harm her. Also includes remarks on social media, obscene images or videos for public view. It could make a person liable to imprisonment of two years.
- Section 292A IPC: Indecent or scurrilous content intending to blackmail
- Section 354 D IPC: Stalking. Trying to contact a woman to foster personal interaction and monitoring her through Internet, email or other electronic communication would be an offence under Section 354D IPC. One-time offence can be punishable for three years. Committing it twice would be punishable for five years. The offender would have to pay a fine in both cases.
- Sec 354 A IPC: Making sexually-coloured remarks, guilty of the offence of sexual harassment. Punishment could be a year’s imprisonment or fine. Else, posting or messaging content related to pornography could attract three years imprisonment and fine.
- Section 503: If a woman is threatened by anyone who wants to alarm or harm her reputation, he or she would invite two years or imprisonment.
- Sec. 507: Intimidation through anonymous means. This too is punishable for two years.
So if you want to pay back the troll in his or her own coin, then arm yourself with some hard facts and figures. For recourse to courts of law, it is important to learn these and then figure out what would help you.