Recently, actor Sajitha Madathil was at the receiving end of a barrage of nasty and personal comments on Facebook.

Increased use of social networking sites has also greatly increased their abuse in Kerala.

Many people use Facebook, Twitter and other networking sites as a means to spew venom on people they hate or spread canards against those with whom they disagree on issues.

However, most people are unaware that this is a criminal offence punishable with up to three years in jail and Rs. 1 lakh in fine.

Hi-Tech Crime Enquiry Cell, the special wing in Kerala Police that investigates cyber crimes, points out that it is pretty easy to track the offenders. It is also easy to lodge a complaint with the Cell.

Recently, actor, writer and activist Sajitha Madathil was at the receiving end of a barrage of nasty comments on Facebook. The attack started as a criticism of her acting in an ad film, Ms. Madathil told The Hindu.

“But it soon turned out to be a personal attack on me and later the posts became extremely offensive. The posts contained highly vituperative personal comments about my character using the choicest Malayalam swear words.”

As she couldn't tolerate the Facebook posts anymore, she promptly lodged a complaint with the Hi-Tech Cell.

N. Vinayakumar, assistant commissioner, Hi-Tech Cell, told The Hindu that he had sent a message to Facebook authorities in the U.S. asking them to remove the offending posts and give the details of those who posted them.

Quick response

He noted that Facebook usually responded quickly to such requests and he was confident that the offenders could be easily tracked.

The Act

In cyber crime parlance, the kind of harassment faced by Ms. Madathil is called ‘cyber stalking' which comes under Section 66 A of the amended Information Technology Act.

Mr. Vinayakumar pointed out that the section was highly potent. (Section 66 A: Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.: Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,- (a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or (b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill-will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or communication device; (c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.”)

Ms. Madathil has advised women who become victims of cyber stalking to immediately lodge complaints with the Hi-Tech Cell as she says cyber stalking is becoming commonplace in Kerala.

Mr. Vinayakumar said complaints could also be lodged with local police stations which would hand the technical side of the investigation to the Hi-Tech Cell. He, however, noted that many complaints did not press on through the trial stage.

Often, once the offenders were identified, the complainants would withdraw the complaints after reaching a compromise with the offenders.

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