Cyberbullying: The dark side of the Internet

Cyberbullying is real, and is an issue that needs to be addressed right now.

In April this year, the 21-year-old son of a Naval employee was arrested in Vishakapatnam for allegedly creating a fake profile of his senior on a social networking site and posting obscene pictures of her, only because she spurned his marriage proposal.

Last year during the IPL, Akash Ambani, the elder son of Mukesh and Nita Ambani, was one of the top trending tags on the micro-blogging site Twitter post his brother Anant’s appearance at an IPL match. He became the subject of snide remarks targeting his weight with the most re-tweeted post being: “Red alert = Expected earthquake in Kolkata later tonight coz Akash Ambani will be doing jhamping jhapang after MI win #IPLFinal.”

Anger in cyberspace is on a steady rise and has proved to be a floodgate to release negativity and meanness among children and adults alike. A Symantec survey two days ago also pointed out the fact that 52% of children surveyed admitted to encountering a negative situation online/cyberbullying.

As it is seen so often these days, cyberbullying is being used to target and abuse others by posting negative content directed towards the intended victim in the form of verbal abuse, threats, harassing texts or messages, online pranks, or posting untowardly adult content or compromising photographs of the victim.

Pic - Montecruz Foto | Flickr

Pic – Montecruz Foto | Flickr

Internet addiction key reason for surge in cyberbullying

Internet addiction is one of the reasons for the rise in cyber bullying, say psychiatrists at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS, Bangalore). Thus, social networking websites – which are used by a huge chunk of youngsters across the globe – have often been used as an outlet for frustrated students to voice their anger therefore form a large chunk of the websites used to bully people.

An associate professor of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, NIMHANS, Dr. K John Vijay Sagar, pointed out: “Of late, we have been witnessing a rising number of adolescents coming in with behavioural changes. When we go through their history over a period of time, we learn that it is owing to the overuse of social media and most of them have internet addiction. This trend was not there earlier.”

But unfortunately, parents have so far remained more or less oblivious to the plight of their child in India. Extreme cases where the victim has been bullied into depression, or worse, driven to suicide, have highlighted the steadily growing statistics of cyber bullying. “Owing to cyberbullying, youngsters not just avoid going to school, but also become victim of depression and go to the extent of committing suicide. In most cases, parents do not reveal such problems that their children go through. But it is necessary to discuss and avail the required medical intervention,” Dr John said about the extreme effects of cyber bullying on children.

A point to remember is that consequences of cyberbullying or harassment are manifold because the internet is not a physical environment that one can escape. And you are stuck in an eternal swirl of persecution both online and offline.

These unsettling stories of some of the worst cases of cyberbullying that all resulted in mental breakdowns and suicides of the victims leave no room for question on the depth of the problem.

Online is no place for women

Online harassment has become a real nightmare for women who constantly have to deal with unpleasant comments on their views on everything from sexuality to politics and social media sites have yet again taken the lead in perpetuating such harassment.

An article written by Amanda Hess went viral earlier this year when she wrote about the disturbing rape threats she received for writing on women’s issues, and of several other women who have been facing similar problems. Here is how feminist Twitter users got harassed by trolls and their momentous response.

In Kerala, a young woman committed suicide on 26 January 2014. The reason for this extreme step was that her neighbour allegedly posted obscene posts about her on Facebook. An example of a new form of harassment called revenge porn, this brings out the uglier side of relationships when things go sour.

Now your private moments are out for the world to see and this is not even the worst part. The perpetrator more often than not links these obscene pictures with the victim’s social media profile and provides her phone number. Consequences therefore, spill out from the cyberspace to real life in a most cruel way.

Tackling the menace of cyberbullying

Unlike regular bullying, the ability to mask identities, impersonate, and to pile-on, means that cyberbullying is a lot harder to spot and monitor. Add to that, the general lack of awareness about cyberbullying as a criminal offence, we have a recipe for disaster. According to Supreme Court lawyer Pavan Duggal, “Six out of 10 people aren’t aware of what constitutes a cyber crime. As a result, they aren’t reported. Neither the victims nor the abusers know what is an offence.”

As of now, cases of cyber bullying fall under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which punishes actions done through a computer or a computer device that are “grossly offensive or menacing, or done to annoy, inconvenience, insult, injure, or cause ill will” against the person it is directed at. Studies have shown that India ranks third in the countries affected by this problem, but but due to a lack of proper definitions and the many manifestations of cyberbullying, it is tough to cover all its forms under this section.

According to Prof. Madabhushi Sridhar, a cyber laws expert at NALSAR University, the problem is not just lack of awareness but also the nonchalance towards this issue. He says, “It would be very useful if both the government and civil society was more aggressive in awareness raising and triggering change in behaviour. Unfortunately this is a bit like smoking—even though people are aware of the issues, they engage in risky behaviour online.”

India should take a cue from Canada, which last year criminalized cyberbullying and gave victims the right to sue their harassers and receive court ordered protection.

Reforming child offenders is no cake walk, mainly because we don’t seem to be equipped to educate children about the nature of cyber crimes or cyberbullying. Under the Juvenile Justice Act, child offenders are put into remand homes or borstal schools or similar facilities if found guilty of cyber crimes. The effectiveness of these methods of punishments for acts of cyberbullying must be questioned and debated, because in several cases children are not aware that their actions constitute a crime or is wrong in any manner.

NGOs internationally have been a major source of information and aid to victims and their families on how to recognize and deal with cyberbullying. A couple of such significant organisations are WiredSafety and End To Cyber Bullying.

Online harassment and cyberbullying exist and have real consequences. The sooner we realise and understand this, the faster we can act upon it. Campaigns like #iCANHELP Delete Negativity on Social Media are a good place to start.


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