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Necessitating Vigilance to Counter Disruptive Misinformation and Protect Individuals

Recently UP Board Class 10 examinations topper faced severe trolling on social media over her facial hair. During a recent interview with BBC News Hindi, she said, "When I saw that people were trolling me, it didn't bother me much. My marks matter, not my facial hair." "However God has made me, I am okay with it. For those who feel there is a difference, it doesn't matter.

Even Chanakya was trolled, and he did not care. Similarly, I also don't care and will focus on my studies," (Bhavsar) The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines trolling as "to antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content." (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) Trolling includes any morphed image, video, and written content. an act or application of negatively judging someone based on their gender, race, religion, ideology, and physical appearance.

Trolls, those who commit these acts, may be classified into several types. There are insult trolls, persistent debate trolls, Exaggeration trolls, show-off trolls, profanity, and all-caps trolls, grammar and spelling check trolls, Persistent debate trolls and so on. Trolling on the internet is rampant nowadays and the term cyberbullying is used interchangeably. The reason for trolling someone is different like a troller who has an abusive childhood, mental health problem, personal revenge, or for making fun.

Impact of Trolling on an Individual:

Trolling poses severe threats to teenagers' mental health and self-esteem profoundly and multifaceted. The consequence of online trolling can vary widely, from anxiety, depression, and social isolation to more severe outcomes such as eating disorders, substance abuse, behavioral issues, body dysmorphia, negative self- Image, low self-esteem, and, in tragic instances, self-harm and suicide attempts among vulnerable individuals. The long-term Impact of cyberbullying can lead to chronic mental health issues like anxiety disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Children who have been cyberbullied may struggle with forming and maintaining healthy relationships due to trust issues and fear of judgment. Children and women are more susceptible to trolling. Trolling spreads misinformation against teenagers and impacts their academic performance as well. Thereby, affecting their daily lives to a great extent.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published a Study in 2015 namely "Study on the Effects of New Information Technologies on the Abuse and Exploitation of Children." The document prioritizes the requirement of states to take measures to protect children from abuse and exploitation, as well as engage in international cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of child abuse and exploitation crimes.

The study covers the main forms of Information Communication Technology (ICT) facilitated child abuse and exploitation, including the creation and distribution of child pornography, plus the commercial sexual exploitation of children, cyber-enticement, solicitation and grooming, cyber-bullying, cyber-harassment and cyber-stalking; as well as exposure to harmful content. This Study, one of UNODC's tools to help states prevent and combat cybercrime, is accompanied by a package of technical assistance which includes law enforcement and judicial training, activities for improved international cooperation, and awareness-raising tools. (Steven Malby)

Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution bestows to the people of India, the right to freedom of speech and expression, it is subject to restrictions. This article does not give people a license to spread hatred, causing discord amongst the political and social harmony of the country. This fundamental right should be used with reasonable restrictions. Fundamental rights given in Article 19(1)(a) are should not interpreted in the justification of trolling. (Assembly)

Penal Provisions to Tackle the Cyberbullying

Ironically, in India, the government enacted special legislation to regularise and penalise various fields whereas when we come to trolls and cybercrime, we go without. Meanwhile, we have a few provisions in the Indian Penal Code and The Information Protection Act, of 2000. Following are the specific provisions in the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and the Information Act 2000, which subsequently deal with the offenses against women.

Section 354D: defines stalking as monitoring the use of the internet, email, or any other electronic form of communication and penalizes the same with punishment for a first-time conviction with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to three, and in subsequent convictions punishment may extend to five years. (Indian Penal Code,1860)

Section 503: Criminal Intimidation. Threatening any woman with injury to his body, reputation, or property, he or she would invite two years of imprisonment and a fine. (Indian Penal Code,1860)

Section 507: Criminal intimidation by anonymous communication and deliberate concealment of the name or abode. This too is punishable for two years. (Indian Penal Code,1860)

Section 509: Intending to insult the modesty of women, utter any word, make any sound or gesture, or exhibit any object with intent to intrude upon the privacy of women. One who does this act shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, and also a fine. (Indian Penal Code,1860)

Chapter XI of the Information Technology Act, 2000, Section 66 (A) punishes a person who sends any information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character; any information that is false but used for causing annoyance, inconvenience, or danger, by making obstruction, insult injury, criminal intimidation enmity hatred or ill will, persistently by sending or posting such information.

The same was punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and a fine. (The Information Technology Act, 2000) This provision was rescinded by the supreme courts' division bench consisting of R.F. Nariman and J. Chelameshwar in the 2015 case of Shreya Singhal V/s Union of India, on the ground of being violative of the right to freedom of speech enshrined in the Constitution. Moreover, the apex court elucidated the importance of freedom of speech and expression while abrogating section 66A. Notwithstanding anything in the abovementioned judgment, the rest of the chapter and act will survive as per the doctrine of severability. (Shreya Singhal V/s Union of India)

Measures by Government:

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs came up with an initiative of the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal for reporting online crimes. i.e. https://cybercrime.gov.in. Also released a detailed handbook for adolescents/students on cyber safety. The handbook focuses on developing awareness among citizens, especially students, about various cyber threats that can impact them and ways to safeguard themselves against cybercrimes.

Another initiative of the Ministry of Home Affairs Government of India is the Indian Cybercrime Coordination Centre (I4C) to deal with cyber-crime in the country in a coordinated and comprehensive manner.I4C focuses on tackling all the issues related to Cybercrime for the citizens, which includes improving coordination between various Law Enforcement Agencies and the stakeholders, driving change in India's overall capability to tackle Cybercrime and to improve citizen satisfaction levels. (https://i4c.mha.gov.in/about.aspx)

Social media intermediaries also have strict policies against impersonation, spreading hate, bullying, and trolling. Many of them like Facebook, YouTube, X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, etc. have mechanisms for reporting or flagging objectionable material. Social Media intermediaries may take appropriate action based on the content reported to them as per their content policy. Platforms should maintain consistency in enforcing their policies against cyberbullying and cybercrimes and while enforcing the policies against the perpetrators must strike a delicate balance between free speech and the Protection of individuals.

Necessity of New Penal Provisions

The Current penal provisions in India to address social media abuse are inadequate and Vague. The Indian Penal Code, 1960 (IPC) and the Information Technology Act 2000 offer an incomplete legal framework to tackle online trolling and abuse. Sections such as 354D (stalking), 499(defamation), 503 (Criminal Intimidation and 509(Insulting the Modesty of a woman) under the IPC, along with Chapter XI as well as the Information Technology Act, ineffectively criminalize and penalize abusive behavior online. Reducing and curbing cyberbullying coordination amongst the different stakeholders is necessary. Despite present provisions, the enforcement and awareness of these laws need to be strengthened to ensure a safer online environment.

References:
  • Assembly, Constituent. Constitution Of India. Delhi: Government of India, 1949.
  • Bhavsar, Karishma Pranav. Mint, Prachi Nigam stands up to trolls: UP Board Class 10 topper says, 'If I had fewer marks...' Mint. Lucknow, 28 April 2024. URL: https://www.livemint.com/education/news/up-board-class-10-topper-prachi-nigam-stands-up-to-trolls/
  • https://i4c.mha.gov.in/about.aspx. n.d.
  • "Indian Penal Code,1860." n.d.
  • Merrium-Webster Dictionary. n.d.
  • Shreya Singhal V/s Union of India. Supreme Court of India. 2015.
  • Steven Malby, Tejal Jesrani, Tania Baï¿œuelos, Anika Holterhof, Magdalena Hahn (UNODC). Study on the Effects of New Information Technologies on the Abuse and Exploitation of Children. New York: United Nations Office on Drug and Crime Vienna, 2015.
  • "The Information Technology Act, 2000." 2000.

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