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Online Harassment and the rise of Social Media Trial and Online Witch Hunt

After the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, the internet became a part of our life. People from all walks of life began to use this once military technology for daily basis. It made a lot of people from different parts of the word to connect with each other. If the 1990s was the internet's baby steps then it was the 2000 that perfected internet into something that we know and use today. It was during that time websites like Microsoft Myspace brought the people to connect with each other.

However when Facebook came in 2004, it changed the world stage forever because a Harvard dropout (Mark Zuckerberg) thought he could do something that could connect people in more easier way. And the rest was history. Social media became an industry of its own and people have been using it to change not only the society but also to the entire human race, like the Arab Spring[i] where the social media played a huge role in it.

Social media however has its downsides too. It ironically divides people over smallest of things. People often vent our their frustration for wrong reasons. The Cambridge Analytica scandal[ii] which caused millions of personal data being leaked have cause massive uproar and people have begin doubting the use of social media. Lets not forget that people have been harassing other people online through various means like hate speech, rape threats, cancel culture, cyber bullying, online stalking and vice versa.

This has led to the rise of online trials and witch hunts which has caused more harm than good. This type of behaviour resembles the McCarthyism which was more prevalent in the early years of the Cold War i.e. the 1950s. When US Senator Joseph McCarthy made a statement about the alleged communist infiltration in the American society, it caused a huge commotion in America. People who are alleged communist often lose their jobs, being harassed by the mob and therefore ostracized from the society.

This not only affected them but also to their families. Nowadays there are thousands, if not million Joseph McCarthys on the internet to prey on their latest victims via witch hunting. And that's not all people often jump into conclusions through their online trial of someone. They judge that someone through mere accusations albeit the accusations could be false but it doesn't matter, sometimes it could destroy an innocent person's life.

Fast forward to 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic and people have been shut in their homes because of the unfortunate numbers of confirmed cases and deaths. The pandemic is now written in the human history as the biggest global crisis since the end of World War II. People with a lot of free time on their hands and sometimes they don't use it for good reasons. Recently there are lot of people who are the unfortunate victims of cruel practice of the online trial and witch hunt by the mob just to gain either clout, attention, views on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and so on. This has brought a lot of side effect on their health, families, friends and their lives. So this article will talk about how online trial and witch hunt has affected people and what remedies should people take it.

What is Online Harassment, Social Media Trial and Witch Hunt?

Popular YouTube personality Filthy Frank once said:
The internet provides greater opportunity for the stupidity to be expressed and paraded. And with this day and age of the internet, ignorance is a choice and they're still choosing ignorance.

This quote often explains the current issues faced by the people on the internet. In order to understand online trials and witch hunts, we must understand what online harassment is. Online harassment is a repeated unsolicited and abusive contact which has the goal of intimidation and frightening of the person. [iii]

For example, a guy threatens a girl that he will post her explicit photos on the internet if she does not do what she says or bullying someone by calling him/her names based on their looks.

Those are just examples but it does often happen in real life, for example Tik Tok (now banned in India[iv]) has been criticized for the cyber bullying of their teenage creators and the company's apathy to take any action[v] about this. Al Jazeera made an interesting report regarding the situation. It states that women and young girls are quitting social media because of the harassment they are receiving.

According to them One in five girls has abandoned or cut down their use on social media because they are being stalked, get really offensive messages and stuff like that. Common attacks are more often on sites like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat and vice versa. A survey polled around 14000 girls and young women gives a very unfortunate results. The age group of 15-25 are the ones who are harassed online countries like Brazil, The United States, India, Spain, Thailand and vice versa.[vi]

One example is the Agrima Joshua incident In July of this year Agrima Joshua, a standup comedian made a joke about Shivaji Maharaj in 2017. Although it was a joke this did not sit well with a lot of people. Her set was thrashed by the mob which forced the comedian to make an apology. Subham Mishra who is an internet personality whose shenanigans could compared to Hindustani Bhau made a video where he literally gave rape threats online to the comedian. This resulted in widespread condemnation against him and Hindustani Bhau who supported this as well. He was arrested by the Vadodara Police few days later.[vii]

Now that the definition of Online Harassment has being explained, let's talk about the Social Media Trial. As previously said, people often jump into conclusions without understanding the problem and because of this it has led to very grave situations. People often think that because social media is the way to express their opinions as given by the Article 19 of the Indian Constitution[viii] i.e. freedon of speech and expression they can say whatever they want.

They just reincarnate Social Media as the Supreme Court of India and they become the judge, jury and executioner. They give a judgement of someone who has allegedly said some critical about the government and the mob just eat it up and they call that same someone anti-nationalist on social media (despite of the fact that they do not know about sedition law and Section 124 of the Indian Penal Code talks about it[ix]) not knowing the repercussions, let alone hearing the other side of the story and often ignoring that there is a system called fair trial and they are not seeing the difference of a fair trial and a social media trial.

This defeats the purpose of Article 19. People often forget that Article 19 has restrictions so that it could protect the morality, integrity, honour etc of the soverign and prevents people from doing something wrong and regrettable. This is what social media trial does. The social media trial has led a doctor in Kerela to commit suicide.[x]

Now let's talk about witch hunt. Witch hunt can be defined as an attemp to find someone or group of people and punish him/her or they because they are being blamed for something, often because of the differences of the opinions instead of the actual wrong being done by someone or group of people.[xi] As previously mentioned, the Maccarthyism in the 1950s or the Red Scarce is the perfect example of the witch hunt[xii]. In this era, there are lot of Joseph Maccarthies who are witch hunting someone just because they have different opinion of the matter.

For example if person A wrote a post about B where the former says that he raped a woman, it won't even matter if the information is credible or not let alone listening the other side of the story i.e. B's story, since rape is a very sensitive issue in India, people often jump the gun and they just witch hunt the person, often beating him and ostracising him from the society. B could lose his job, his family or in worst case scenario he could lose his life because of the witch hunt caused by the said accusation.

Again Article 19 of the Indian Constitution is thrown out the window. The Jasleen Kaur case is the real life example of the witch hunt, where she accused a person named Sarvjeet Singh of harassing her on Facebook thus leading to the loss of his job, and the constant harassment from the media and the mob the former of which called him ‘Delhi ka Darinda'. The guy eventually got acquitted from the case because Jasleen did not attend court hearings and the credible of the post was also questioned. Nevertheless this affected his life because of the girl's action.[xiii]

Psychological effects of Online Harassment, Social Media Trials and Witch Hunts:

  • The harm in self-esteem, destruction of self-confidence, questioning of their own self.
  • Continuous bullying could lead to isolation from their own friends and family members which also have a drastic impact.
  • Some young adults could often resort to self harm.
  • They could often face suicidal thoughts, or they might resort to suicide. [xiv]
  • Some people fear for their lives.
  • The online harassment creats fear of leaving homes for some people. [xv]
Example of this could be Hana Kimura, a Japanese wrestler who commited suicide over a clash with a male contestant in a reality show. Because of this the mob attacked her giving her death threats and calling out names to her. This type of witch hunt has led to her death.[xvi] Another example is the James Charles situation where James Charles an internet celebrity was being accused of predatory behaviour by another celebrity Tati Westbrook.

This has resulted in James losing millions of subscribers on YouTube and people of the social media court are just jumping to conclusion without listening to his side of the story leadng to online witch hunt towards him[xvii]. However James brought out the recipts debunking the accusations made by Westbrook and he also explains how the whole thing has affected him mentally.[xviii]

The Rhea Chakraborty case

Following the unfortunate death of Sushant Singh Rajput on 14th June 2020, people have been in uproar about the whole ordeal. People blamed Bollywood elites like Karan Johar for promting favouritism in Bollywood. [xix] However this does not end there. People have been accusing Sushant's girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty for her part in his death even though she was arrested by the NCB (Narcotics Control Bureau) for the use of drugs. Since there are lot of conspiracy theories regarding this case, people of the social media trial think of them as facts.

This has made Rhea, a modern day communist pariah in the Social Media and TV Media's Maccarthyism and was subjected to tons of hate. The Social Media Trial has led people to send online rape and murder threats to Rhea forcing her to disable her Instagram. The TRP vultures of the TV media also played a huge role for her harassment by putting salt into injuries and has being harassing her on her home and while going to the NCB interrogation.[xx]

This type of harassment has made some people question the morality of the case and it also shows the double standards of the mob and the social/tv media while they were talking about justice for Sushant while ignoring the mental health of the actor[xxi] as well as the witch hunt that has affected Rhea's mental health.[xxii]

Remedies
Legal Remedies:
  1. Section 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code talks about defamation where a person could be punished with a imprisonment for 2 years or fine or both if he or she does something that could harm the reputation of someone. [xxiii]
  2. Section 503 talks about criminal intimidation if someone threatens another by any injury to his or her person, reputation or property with an intention. [xxiv]
  3. Section 354 talks about Voyeurism which talks about taking an image of a woman without consent and anyone punished under this act will be punished with the imprisonment for 3 years for first offense and 7 years for subsequent offense. [xxv]
  4. Section 507 talks about Criminal intimidation by an anonymous communication and anyone punished under this act will imprisoned for a term which will extend to 2 years. [xxvi]
  5. Section 228a: Disclosure of the identity of victims of certain offences anyone punished under this will also be imprisoned for a term which will extend to 2 years. [xxvii]

Other remedies:
  1. Do not respond to anything the mob says, it will only give them what they wanted.
  2. A person should express his/her feelings to friends, family so that they'll know how they feel about the online trial, witch hunt or harassment. The victims of the said attacks can also provide support to the person.
  3. Blocking is another effective measure to prevent the mob from harassing the person but if it does not work. [xxviii]
  4. Take screenshots of the messages, comments and conversations and report it to the appropriate authorities.
  5. Make sure to have witnesses so that they could see what is going on with the person which will soon be useful in court. [xxix]

Conclusion
Social media is a very powerful tool in this day and age. However this tool has been misused to cause harm and divide among others which could affect the person mentally and psychologically. The mentality of live and let live has brought up more breeds of the mob who cannot see reason and often resorts to something which could end up regrettable. Because of the misuse social media has now become a connecting means all by name and in reality it is just an irony.

It is not a bad place, however the misuse has just gave more reluctance to people. However the sites are now promoting new policies to avoid such commotions as well as there has been a rise of awareness about issues of social media among the general masses. The MeToo movement is an example on how social media could be used to help people who were the victims of sexual abuse and has put a lot of sexual predators behind bars.

Social Media has made the world more connecting, in the aftermath of the recent George Floyd Protests which has brought more people to stand up against the issue of racism. If the issues are addressed through legal means as well as the effectiveness of the company's policy against harassment then people would regain their trust on the social media. Thus people need to be careful regarding the pros and cons of social media.

End-Notes:
  1. https://www.history.com/topics/middle-east/arab-spring#:~:text=The%20Arab%20Spring%20was%20a%20loosely%20related%20group,end%20goal%20was%20increased%20democracy%20and%20cultural%20freedom
  2. https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/cambridge-analytica-what-to-know_n_5ab11d7ee4b09a2c75c90931?ri18n=true#:~:text=Cambridge%20Analytica%2C%20whose%20parent%20company%20is%20Strategic%20Communication,%E2%80%9Cto%20engage%2C%20persuade%2C%20and%20motivate%20individuals%20to%20act.%E2%80%9D
  3. https://www.wisegeek.net/what-is-online-harassment.htm
  4. https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-53225720#:~:text=India%27s%20government%20has%20banned%20TikTok%20and%20dozens%20more,banned%20-%20among%20them%20popular%20messaging%20app%20WeChat.
  5. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/krishrach/tik-tok-users-bullying-abuse-complaints
  6. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/5/toxic-online-abuse-drives-women-girls-from-social-media
  7. https://www.hindustantimes.com/tv/shubham-mishra-arrested-over-rape-threats-to-comedian-pooja-bhatt-swara-bhasker-laud-vadodara-police/story-iIxktM6Gsrh8x0dusVxDDO.html
  8. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1218090/#:~:text=Article%2019%20in%20The%20Constitution%20Of%20India%201949,etc%20%281%29%20All%20citizens%20shall%20have%20the%20right
  9. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1641007/
  10. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/facing-social-media-trial-kerala-doc-found-hanging-6691231/
  11. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/witch-hunt
  12. https://sdjekic.wordpress.com/the-communist-witch-hunt/#:~:text=The%20communist%20witch%20hunt%20was%20a%20period%20in,the%20soviets%20worked%20together%20to%20bring%20down%20Hitler.
  13. https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2019/oct/26/jasleen-kaur-case-sarvjeet-acquitted-after-four-years-netizens-demand-apology-from-kejriwal-arnab-2053322.html
  14. https://feminisminindia.com/2016/11/23/online-harassment-affects-mental-health/#:~:text=Online%20harassment%20and%20bullying%20have%20a%20negative%20impact,people%E2%80%99s%20ability%20to%20work%20effectively%2C%20to%20feel%20safe.
  15. https://archive.thinkprogress.org/the-real-life-consequences-of-online-harassment-5c8e9547a93e/
  16. https://www.dw.com/en/hana-kimura-suicide-of-japanese-wrestler-blamed-on-online-bullying/a-53567834
  17. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/12/entertainment/james-charles-youtube-subscribers-trnd/index.html
  18. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/18/entertainment/james-charles-tati-westbrook-trnd/index.html
  19. https://news.abplive.com/entertainment/movies/sushant-singh-rajput-death-karan-johar-bruttaly-trolled-on-his-return-to-twitter-on-the-occasion-of-ganesh-chaturthi-1319539
  20. https://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/rhea-chakraborty-case-sensationalist-media-coverage-distorts-due-process-and-risks-subverting-justice/2100367/
  21. https://feminisminindia.com/2020/09/07/ssr-case-media-denies-mental-health-issues-men/
  22. https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/mumbai/other/witch-hunt-by-central-agencies-taking-toll-on-my-mental-health-rhea-chakraborty/articleshow/78286597.cms#:~:text=Actor%20Rhea%20Chakraborty%2C%20arrested%20in%20a%20drugs%20case,any%20further%20custody%20will%20worsen%20her%20mental%20health.
  23. https://legodesk.com/legopedia/section-499-and-500-of-ipc/#:~:text=Section%20499%20of%20the%20Indian%20Penal%20Code%20gives,Constitution%20of%20India%20under%20Article%2019%20%281%29%20%28a%29.
  24. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/878688/
  25. https://www.legallyindia.com/views/entry/online-harassment-and-legal-remedies
  26. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1255223/
  27. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1696350/
  28. https://www.engadget.com/2016-09-21-ways-to-stop-social-media-harassment.html
  29. https://www.legallyindia.com/views/entry/online-harassment-and-legal-remedies

    Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Anish Bachchan

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