This article has been written by Shobita pursuing Diploma in English Communication for Lawyers – oratory, writing, listening and accuracy and has been edited by Oishika Banerji (Team Lawsikho).
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
Table of Contents
Technology has changed the life of an individual. Although it helps him to live his life with ease, there are certain problems that exist side by side also. Cyberbullying is one aspect of technology. In this article, we will be discussing cyberbullying, its meaning, types, Indian laws related to it, effects and how it can be stopped.
What do you mean by cyberbullying
Cyberbullying means harassing or insulting any person through various digital platforms or communication sources such as e-mails, direct messages and other social media apps. Simply put, there is use of technology to insult or harass someone. When something abusive is shared about anyone on online platforms which humiliates, embarrasses or degrades the reputation of the person is called cyberbullying.
The National Crime Prevention Council defines cyberbullying as “the process of using the internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.” This also happens through gaming apps. It includes posting offensive comments, and remarks that may lead to racial, religious, ethnic and political hatred. The term “cyberbullying” was first defined by a Canadian named Bill Belsey.
What are the types of cyberbullying
The different types of cyberbullying have been discussed hereunder, for providing an idea to the readers about the same.
Flaming signifies a type of cyberbullying that involves sending of offensive or hurtful texts, messages or emails, directly to the victim. Vulgar and abusive words are sent which are aggressive in nature. Flaming usually contains insults, words full of anger, etc. A few traits of flaming that readers should know about are:
- It is necessary to note that bullies who engage themselves in flaming generally use capital letters, images and symbols, so that they can add emotion to their argument.
- It is not a surprise if the flammer puts down someone’s race, sexual involvement, gender, economic status, etc. This aggravates the insult that is intended to be done.
- It is always advisable that the incident of flaming must be reported to those you trust such as your parents, teachers, friends, etc, so as to keep confidentiality intact.
- Flaming in itself is a dangerous type of behaviour that can lead to serious consequences.
- It is necessary to note that flamers carry on their activity so as to seek attention. The longevity and trait of the attention period does not matter as both positive and negative attention is welcomed by these flamers.
In this type of online bullying, a person receives threatening or hateful messages. These messages usually follow a constant pattern with the intent to hurt. The three prime traits of harassment as a form of cyberbullying have been provided hereunder:
- Severe: Online harassment is considered to be severe for the consequences it wears along with itself. Be it abuse or death threats, the resultant effect on the aggrieved party is hard to estimate.
- Pervasive: Online harassment is considered to be pervasive because at times it appears to be extremely minor in proportion but similarly its detrimental consequences on the targeted individual can be said to be another side of the coin.
- Online: The harassment we are talking about is inclusive of email, social media platforms (such as Twitter to that of Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok), blogging platforms (such as Medium, Tumblr, etc), and the comments sections as well such as those on digital media or any personal blogs.
When inflammatory comments are posted about a person intentionally to disturb him or her mentally, the same is termed as trolling. Usually, celebrities are trolled for their actions online for they are considered to be soft targets due to their public presence.
Cyberstalking is a serious offence where the victim receives threatening messages. It also includes physical threats. Here the victim is monitored and followed online. It can be called the extension of physical stalking. It is considered a criminal offence according to Section 354D of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
When an individual uses your social networking accounts to post some inappropriate content under your name, the same is considered to be frapping. This is usually done to ruin your reputation and can be considered as one of the forms of online defamation.
In this type of cyberbullying an individual is excluded deliberately from a group. He is also bullied online through messages.
Impersonation is when a person makes fake profiles and accounts to destroy one’s reputation in society. Sensitive information about the victim is also shared online.
Cyberbullying in India
Although the rate of cyberbullying is increasing day by day in India, there lies no direct provisions dealing with the same. There are some sections of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and IPC which deal with the punishment related to cyberbullying, as have been discussed hereunder.
Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act, 2000
This section deals with the punishment for sending messages or emails which are harmful or abusive in nature through the internet or any other platform. These messages are sent to cause annoyance, injury, and inconvenience to the victim. It is also punishable under the provision when someone shares information that he believes to be false.
Punishment under this section is 3 years of imprisonment, if the message sent was found grossly offensive. However, this provision was struck down by the Apex Court as it was declared unconstitutional in 2015 in the Shreya Singhal case, for the purpose of violating the freedom of speech.
Section 66 C of the Information Technology Act, 2000
This provision deals with the punishment for using electronic signature, password or any other identification feature of any other person dishonestly or fraudulently. A person is punishable under this provision up to 3 years of imprisonment or a fine up to one lakh rupees for identity theft.
Sec 66 D of the Information Technology Act, 2000
An individual who cheats by personation using any social media or communication device is punished under this provision. It means a person is typically punished for fraudulently pretending to be some other person.
Sec 66 E of the Information Technology Act, 2000
This provision was added in the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008. It reduces the gender bias which was made in Section 354 C of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. This provision provides protection to both men and women. This provision specifically deals with privacy with respect to one’s body parts. It is punishable to capture (any video, image, film or record through any means) publish,(that is available to the public) or to transmit an image film or video recorded that has been sent in such a way that it can be viewed by person or persons without the consent of the person, violating his or her privacy. This section covers two circumstances that would amount to a violation of the privacy of that person.
Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000
Under this provision, publishing or transmitting any material which is obscene in nature and if such material tends corrupt people to read, hear or see the material, it would be considered as an offence. It means such material raises lustful thoughts in the person. The person committing offence under section 67 will be punished with imprisonment which may extend up to 3 years and fine up to 5 lakh rupees and on subsequent conviction the imprisonment may extend up to 5 years and of fine 10 lakh rupees.
Section 67 A of the Information Technology Act, 2000
Section 67 A deals with penalising the publishing or transmission of any material which contains sexually explicit content or act. The publication or transmission of such material should be in electronic form. Punishment under Section 67 A on 1st conviction is imprisonment which may extend up to 5 years also with a fine up to 10 lakh however on the second conviction, imprisonment may extend to 7 years and with a fine up to 10 lakh rupees.
Exception to Section 67 and Section 67 A
- These sections do not extent to any book, paper, painting or figure in electronic form
- When a publication is for the public good and in the interest of science, literature, art, etc, then it does not come within the purview of these sections.
- When a publication is related to bonafide heritage or religious purposes, the act won’t be categorised as those mentioned in these sections.
Sec 67 B of the Information Technology Act, 2000
This section deals with the transmission of material that depicts children involved in sexually explicit conduct or act. Any person who creates text, advertisements or images or records anything which depicts children in a vulgar or obscene manner, is punishable under Section 67 B.
Section 292 A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
This section deals with the printing of any matter in grossly indecent manner or matter intended for blackmail; it includes printing, selling or conveying any printed or written document which is indecent or intended for blackmail. Taking part in or receiving any profit from such business which includes sale, import, export or printing etc, of such materials or advertising the same which would be injurious to morality, is punishable under this provision.
Section 354 C of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
This section deals with voyeurism. Under this provision, if any man who captures the image or watches any woman engaged in some private act in such circumstances where she presumes privacy or spreads such images to a third party, would be considered as an offence. This provision is gender specific, i.e.it only covers males. Females are not punished under this provision. On first conviction, he shall be punished with imprisonment which should not be less than 1 year and this may extend to 3 years with a fine. This imprisonment increases on a second conviction of at least 3 years which may extend to 7 years with a fine.
Section 354 D of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
Section 354 D defines stalking as :
- When a man follows a woman and contacts her, or tries to contact her to stimulate personal interaction frequently even when she shows a clear intention of disinterest.
- Monitors the activity of the woman online through various communication methods like email, messaging apps.
This section only covers women. Any stalking of males is not covered under Section 354 D. In the case of the State of West Bengal v. Animesh Boxi (2018), the accused hacked the victim’s phone and took control of some of her private pictures. He blackmailed her by threatening to post those pictures on a pornography website. Here the court held that the victim has suffered from virtual rape. Thus the accused will be convicted under Section 354 D of IPC.
Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
This section deals with defamation. As discussed in this section, the scope of defamation is quite broad. Along with offline defamation in written or oral form, it also includes any speech or document in online format which are posted on online platforms by any person which tends to harm the reputation of any other person. Such a person will be considered as doing online defamation and he will be penalised under Section 500 of IPC which deals with the punishment of the same. The punishment is simple imprisonment which may extend to 2 years or a fine or both.
Section 507 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
This section specifically addresses criminal intimidation through the use of anonymous communication. It means that when any person through a fake identity (which is not known), or through an unknown telecommunication source; it may be any social media platform, threatens another person shall be punished with imprisonment of maximum of 2 years.
Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
If a person does any act or utters any word or makes such gestures or sounds with the intention to intrude on the privacy and to offend the modesty of women, he shall be punished with simple imprisonment which may extend to three years with a fine. The intention is the most important essential of the section. If any person tries to harass a woman through electronic mode or by using any telecommunication device shall be punished with fine and rigorous imprisonment which shall not be less than two months however this rigorous imprisonment may extend to 2 years also.
Initiatives taken by the Indian government
Cybercrime prevention against women and children scheme (CCPWC Scheme)
Under this scheme, various units are established to analyse cybercrime reports and investigations related to cybercrimes. These units are also responsible for reporting cyberbullying with the aim to prevent cybercrime. Under this financial assistance has been provided to all states and UTs for implementing the schemes. The portal cybercrime.gov.in will receive complaints from the citizens on objectionable online content related to child pornography, child sexual abuse material, and sexually explicit material like rape and gang rape. CCPWC portal will facilitate victims/complainants to report cybercrime complaints online in either anonymous mode or ‘report & track’ mode.
Indian cyber crime coordination centre scheme
This scheme focuses especially on women and children victims and issues faced on online media. It also creates awareness among youth about cybercrime. It deals with all kinds of cybercrimes in a comprehensive manner. It has various components, namely, National Cybercrime Reporting Portal, National Cybercrime Threat Analytics Unit, Joint Cybercrime Investigative Team Group, National Cybercrime Forensic Laboratory Ecosystem, National Cybercrime Training Centre, Management Unit of Cybercrime Ecosystem, National Cyber Research and Innovation Centre.
Various helpline numbers are also set up for tackling the problem of cyberbullying. Complaints on numbers like 1800-180-5522 are promptly forwarded to the authorities.
The Nirbhaya Fund Scheme
This fund has been set up by the Indian Government for the safety and security of women and children. The Ministry of Home Affairs has also generated a single number to cope up with the emergency. This is under the Emergency response support system (ERSS).
National Database on Sexual Offenders (NDSO)
It was launched to provide assistance in monitoring & investigation of sexual crimes. NDSO portal will only be accessed by law enforcement agencies to effectively track and investigate cases of sexual offences.
Effects of cyberbullying
Cyberbullying may affect an individual’s life in various ways. It may harm him emotionally, mentally.A 2019 Swedish study indicates that youths involved in cyberbullying, either as the target or the perpetrator, had a higher risk of symptoms of depression and anxiety. They also had lower levels of general well-being.
A person starts eluding from reality, from social media or other online platforms. He may feel it difficult to engage in social activities and have a social life. He may have a low opinion of himself. Cyberbullying usually increases fear and anxiety in the mind of a person. Destructive thoughts, mood swings, not showing emotions, not trusting anyone, aggressiveness and short-tempered nature are some of the symptoms of a victim. He sees no hope in the near future. There are many chances that a victim may commit suicide. There is a lot of mental agony and pain. He remains mentally disturbed and many of times, starts hiding things. Fear of losing reputation and respect changes his behaviour towards his family members are the common symptoms.
How it can be prevented
It is the responsibility of parents to check their child’s online activities so that the problem of cyberbullying can be prevented from the root. Parents should be aware of apps their child is using. They should encourage their child to engage in offline activities. They must notice changes in a child’s behaviour such as less involvement with others , deactivation of social media accounts, hiding things, avoiding discussions, showing symptoms of depression etc. They must note these changes and investigate whether these occur during the child’ s involvement in online activities.
If by any chance these symptoms are there in a child’ s behaviour, Parents must take quick and effective action.They should start a conversation with the victim and assure him that there would be no harm to him. Ask him how it happened, who are involved etc
A proper record should be maintained of the bullying. Enough proof should be taken either through screenshots or through any other methods. Bullies should be reported immediately. Also, social media platforms can be requested to remove the offensive post. These platforms have guidelines regarding cyberbullying. Parents can send a complaint to the [email protected] and can register a complaint with the nearest police station in case the victim receives threats.Victims should be supported morally.
Teenagers are facing the problem of cyberbullying at a high rate. The cases are increasing day by day. They are bullied online as a result of which their growth gets affected. There are no strict laws that punish bullies. Being an emerging centre of Information Technology, the problems related to technology are also increasing and cyberbullying is one of the problems. Lawmakers must pay attention to it. Awareness programs must be organised so that parents and teachers can easily identify this problem in their children. They must support the victim and help them to recover from it and live a healthy life.
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