Social media and cybercrimes

Crowd reporting mechanism used by platforms has proved to be inefficient in addressing offences

Updated - June 20, 2020 02:21 pm IST

Published - June 14, 2020 12:41 am IST

Interactions in the public sphere always require a higher degree of care and integrity compared with interpersonal communication. With the advent of information technology, public visibility of personal communication and expression of ideas and emotions happen in a rapid pace. Social media platforms are the modern-day guarantor of freedom of speech and expression. Numbers of social media users are increasing day by day especially among the young people. It gives people a space to share their voices, it has empowered the voiceless.

However, crimes such as revenge porn, cyberstalking and slut shaming are so common to the modern world that revolves around social media. Crowd reporting mechanism used by social media platforms to maintain order in their space has proved to be largely inefficient in addressing these offences. However, even while these crimes are taking a steep rise, they are not being subjected to serious debates and discussions. Cases that are being reported before the public are many times fewer than the actual number of crimes that are happening on social media and many such cyber-aggressions do not get viewed even as crimes.

Occasional controversies are subsumed over a period, and thus these offences are being largely normalised. Justice delivery mechanisms appear to be very complex and inaccessible to women and the marginalised when it comes to offences related to social media. Owing to the technological complexity associated with cybercrimes, evidence collection and investigation are very complex and it’s often impossible for the agencies to hold the perpetrators accountable before law.

Thus it has been a safe haven for the violators. The anonymity that social media ensures to the violators makes the subject even more complex. Social media is a mirror of society. The cause for the offences should be carefully studied and responded to by society with the connected work of people and the justice delivery mechanism.

While such efforts are expected to aim at finding a solution to this issue which involves complex questions of constitutional rights of freedom of speech and expression and right to privacy, society can be observed to direct its energy towards re-victimisation of the women who were subjected to attack. When the violated are forced to pay a huge price through re-victimisation for the wrongful acts of the violator, the community as a whole develop a sense of revulsion towards the legal system. Further, the character of state machineries conferring privileges on certain classes of violators who subject those women who raise criticism against the institutional structure of patriarchy and keeping them out of the hands of law shows the blatant failure of legal machinery in effectively addressing social media violence with enough seriousness. This obviously is a conflict between the existing criminal legal system of the country which often shows its inability to deal with social media abuse and the ethical sentiments of the members of society whose rights are violated on social media platforms.

A recent study titled “Troll Patrol India: Exposing Online Abuse Faced by Women Politicians in India” by Amnesty International revealed that a large section of victims constituted those belonging to the minority religious communities, disadvantaged caste groups and those belonging to the Opposition parties who hold different political ideologies. This reveals the fact that the system comfortably plays along with the perpetrators to extend the patriarchal notions of religion and male dominance even in cyberspace. India is a nation where women expressing their free political views about religious practices are booked under Section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code, while the hardcore devotees who proclaim themselves to be the protectors of religious faith and deities subject such women to verbal abuse without being touched by the so-called secular laws of the land. Character assassination of women belonging to Opposition parties and slut shaming of women who raise voices of dissent against established religious institutions are normalised by the legal system. These incidents of violence even fail to make their way to discussions on social media platforms.

Thus society differentiates offences of similar class and finds no wrong in doing so. Isolating and addressing individual cases won’t do any help in effectively finding a solution to these violence of a novel form that seriously breach an individual’s privacy and freedom of speech and expression. Prescribed solutions of society range from forcing women to withdraw or hide themselves from social media platforms to keeping mum towards the violations that they are subjected to, leading to re-victimisation of the violated.

The violence on social media platforms is generally being addressed under the penal provisions which deal with conventional offences such as sexual harassment, violation of privacy, criminal intimidation and defamation. These appear to be largely insufficient to deal with these techno-motivated crimes that have a deeper, brutal impact upon the victim than these traditional offences. Refusal of the legislatures to ensure safe virtual social platforms for their female voters is the sole reason for this inefficiency. The helplessness of female members of social media platforms resulting in their exit or forced silence on social media apprehending personal abuse, victimisation and stigmatisation doesn’t add any merit to the system of criminal justice administration of the country but aggravates disgrace to its failures and pitfalls.

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