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Legal Advice on Countering & Reporting of Cyberbullying

 > Anticipatory Bail & Regular Bail  > Legal Advice on Countering & Reporting of Cyberbullying

Legal Advice on Countering & Reporting of Cyberbullying

Hannah Hamid was a final year B.Sc (Chemistry) student at a private college in Thodupuzha. She was trolled in the social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter etc. for selling fish in the market after college hours. A false rumour was also spread that she is an actress who is promoting her film by selling fish in the market. Thereafter, she was stopped by the Police to sell fish in the market and people of her native place also started to misbehave with her. After the intervention of the national media and social activists trolling was stopped and rumours were unveiled. Her true story was shown i.e., she is a brave girl who sells fish in the market to pay fees for her education and earn bread for her house. As her father is a drunkard and her mother is not in a condition to earn money. Thereafter, the Chief Minister of Kerala ordered an investigation and gave a shop to Hannah for selling fish. In this case, due to the intervention of the national media and social activists, Hannah got justice. But there are many cyberbullying cases where national media or social activists are not able to reach to rescue them. Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution of India, 1950 confers Freedom of Speech and Expression to every citizen. But in the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (Cri. W. P. No. 196/ 2014), the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that Freedom of speech and expression is not absolute and can be restricted on reasonable grounds. Therefore, through this article an attempt is made to preach readers about the legal recourse and precautions that could be taken to counter cyberbullying.

What is Cyberbullying?
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines cyberbullying as intentional repetitive behaviour or an act done using the internet or any other electronic communication device to scare, anger or degrade another person. Cyberbullying usually takes place in social media, messaging platforms, game platforms and mobile phones. There is no legal definition of cyberbullying under any act for the time being in force.

In MyGov.gov.in, instances that fall under the ambit of cyberbullying are enlisted hereinbelow:
• Spreading lies about or posting embarrassing photos of someone on social media;
• Impersonating someone and sending mean messages to others on their behalf;
• Hacking personal accounts again and again;
• Flaming, which is the use of vulgar or insensitive language to attack someone;
• Sending threatening, hurtful or inappropriate messages to harass someone;
• Sharing someone’s private messages or picture or threatening/blackmailing to do so;
• Threatening someone to commit an act of violence or threats of pornography;
• Stalking someone and sending targeted messages;
• Child pornography or threats of child pornography, etc.

Effects of Cyberbullying
As per Statista, India has the second-largest social network with 349.97 million users, after China with 926.84 million users. Facebook is a social networking website that has the largest number of users worldwide i.e., 2740 million users in 2021, as compared to other social networks. In 2021, India is the largest market of Facebook and WhatsApp with 320 million users and 390.1 million users, respectively. Statista report states that India is the country where cyberbullying cases are highest, 37% of the parents in India have reported cyberbullying. As per Digital Civility Index 2021 published by Microsoft, in India Generation Z and Millennials are hardest hit by cyberbullying with 42% and 44%, respectively. Various studies have shown that the suicide rate increased due to cyberbullying. According to the Annual Bullying Survey 2020 released by the Ditch The Label, shows 44% of the victim of cyberbullying felt anxious, 36% of the victim of cyberbullying felt depressed, 33% of the victim of cyberbullying had suicidal thoughts and 27% of the victim even self-harmed.

In the case of Sazzadur Rahman v. The State of Assam and Ors. [Cri. Pet. No. 654/2019], the accused created a fake Facebook profile of a 15-year-old victim. In the fake profile, the accused mentioned the victim’s name, uploaded obscene pictures, and posted some derogatory remarks against her, which caused her to be mentally unstable and hampered her academic growth. The trial court rejected the application made by the accused under Section 311 of CrPC. Thereafter, a petition under section 482 read with sections 401/397 of CrPC was filed before the Hon’ble Gauhati High court for quashing the order of the trial court. The Hon’ble Gauhati High Court, while dismissing the application, held that discretion of the Trial Court, which, ex facie, has been exercised judiciously on the basis of relevant materials, cannot be interfered with either in revisional jurisdiction or under Section 482 CrPC.

In the case of Swami Ramdev and Ans. v. Facebook, Inc. and Ors. [CS (OS) 27/2019], the Hon’ble Delhi High Court ordered to remove the video from all the social platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc. The video was upload on various platforms in which a person was making demeaning and disparaging remarks about the Patanjali products and Swami Ramdev. In that video, the person was also using abusive language towards Patanjali products and Swami Ramdev.

In the case of Chambers v. Director of Public Prosecutions [EWHC 2157/ 2012], A 26-year-old man learned that an airport from which he was due to travel was closed due to heavy snowfall. He responded on Twitter by tweeting: “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!” Five days later, the duty manager of the airport read the tweet and communicated it to the police. The High Court of Justice in United Kingdom (U. K.) held that the defendant lacked the requisite mens rea as he “intended the message as a joke, even if a poor joke in bad taste”, thus the intention to send a message of a menacing character is not established.

In the case of J.S. Ex. Rel. Snyder Vs. Blue Mountain Sch. [No. 08-4138], J.S. who was a student of 8th grade of the Blue Mountain School District, along with her friend K. L. made a fake ID of the principal in MySpace after the principal twice disciplined her for dress code. They added a profile picture of the principal in the account and described the principal with adult language. They make fun of the principal using that ID and also use sexually explicit content in that fake ID. When the principal learned about his fake ID, then he suspended J.S. from school. Thereafter, the parents of the J.S. filed a case against the school claiming that the act of J.S. was in the exercise of her right to free speech and it happened outside school, therefore the school administration has no authority to take action against this. The Court of Appeal for the third in the United States held that school administration is within its right to action against J.S.

Primary Reasons for Cyberbullying
It is essential to understand why a person bullies another person. If we are able to understand the cause or the reason behind the act of bullying, then we might find a solution for the problem or an instrument to control such acts. Hereinbelow are some reasons that act as the reason in myriad cases for cyberbullying:

Power: Sometimes a person to show that they are alpha in a society or a community, they start bullying other people or a person who is a threat to his or her alpha position in that society or community. Before deep penetration of the internet in society, bullying usually took place among school and college-going students. But with the increase of reach of the internet among people cyberbullying has increased exponentially in social media, messaging platforms, game platforms and mobile phones.

Social Status: People to maintain their high social status in their society or community, sometimes they spread false statements, rumours etc. to demean or defame their competitor. Power and Social status seem almost similar but there is a hair-line difference between power and social status.

Revenge: When a weak person is ill-treated or insulted by a stronger person or a person in authority, then such weak person starts spreading rumour, false statements etc. against him in the cyber world through social media, messaging platforms, game platforms and mobile phones for revenge.

Entertainment: People also cyberbully for entertainment. They derive pleasure or happiness from cyberbullying. This could be witnessed if we go to the comment section of any content creator’s post on any social media. There we could see that the person who has no relation to such content creator is abusing, making fun or threatening such content creator.

Applicable Laws in India on Cyberbullying
According to the study by the renowned NGO Child Rights and You (CRY), 9.2% of 630 adolescents who were part of the survey revealed that they have faced cyberbullying and half of them had not told about bullying to their parents, teacher or guardian. However, no special law is legislated by the parliament to prohibit cyberbullying. The Legislature through section 66 A of the Information Technology Act (I.T.), 2000 tried to prohibit or control cyberbullying. Section 66A of the Information Technology Act (I.T.), 2000 lays down the punishment of imprisonment for a term which may extend to the 3 years and with fine, for those who using a computer resource or any communication device intentionally sends any information to another person, despite knowing that such information is false, to cause inconvenience, obstruction, criminal intimidation, hatred, enmity, ill-will, danger or annoyance. But in the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (Cri. W. P. No. 196/ 2014), the Hon’ble Supreme Court repealed section 66A of the Information Technology Act (I.T.), 2000 on the grounds of vagueness and chilling effect as it unreasonably restricts the enjoyment of freedom of speech and expression enshrined under Article 19(a) of the Constitution of India, 1950.

Information Technology Act (I.T.), 2000
a) Cheating by personation by using computer resource (Section 66D): Any person who using computer resource or any communication device cheats by personation shall be punished with imprisonment upto 3 years and with a fine upto Rs. 1 Lakh.

b) Violation of privacy (section 66E): Any person who violates another person’s privacy by capturing his/ her photo while he/ she was indulge in private activity and later publishes on the internet. Such person shall be punished with imprisonment upto 3 years, or with fine upto 2 Lakhs, or with both.

c) Publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form (Section 67): Whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the electronic form, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it, shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees and in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and also with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees.

d) Blocking of content by the Central Government (Section 69A): The Central Government or any officers of the central government specially authorised in this behalf may, after recording reason in writing, order or direct any agency of the government or intermediary to block access by the public or cause to be blocked for access by the public any information generated, transmitted, received, stored or hosted in any computer resource. Any person who fails to comply with the order or direction shall be punished with imprisonment upto 7 years and with fine.

Indian Penal Code (I. P. C.), 1860
a) Defamation (Section 499): Any person who using words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by sign makes or publishes any aspersions regarding any other person to harm, or having knowledge that such aspersions likely to harm such person, is said to defame another person. But if such aspersions are true or related to conduct to of public servant while discharging his duty or conduct of any person related to the public interest. Such person shall be punished under section 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 with imprisonment upto 2 years or with fine or with both.

b) Criminal Intimidation by an anonymous communication (Section 507): Any person who anonymously threatens another person with any injury to reputation or property with the intention to warn or to coerce that person to do an illegal act, or omit to do any act which he is legally bound to do, to avoid the threat posed by such person. Such person shall be punished with imprisonment upto 2 years or with a fine or with both in addition to the punishment provided in section 506 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 i.e., imprisonment upto 7 years or with fine or with both.

Section 506 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 penalise the person who criminally intimidates another person with grievous hurt such as setting his property on fire or with an offence punishable with imprisonment upto 7 years or with death or imprisonment for life.

Legal Process & Procedure to Report Cyberbullying in India
People usually react to cyberbullying by brushing it aside. Various studies have shown that people have normalised bullying. They usually react to any bully by ignoring it. Example, boys will be boys, tough men don’t complaint etc. Moreover, with the increase of reach of the internet among people, cyberbullying has grown exponentially. The worst part about this is that there is no special law to stop such type of behaviour or which could act as a deterrent in the mind of miscreants.

However, now people have started to raise voice against cyberbullying and the government has also started to take measures against. The Madras High Court in the case of R. Bharaneeswaran v. Government of Tamil Nadu Rep. by its Secretary and Ors. [W. P. No. 10168/ 2020] observed the necessity of the students to attend online classes which will make them vulnerable to cybercrimes such as cyberbullying. Therefore, the Hon’ble Madras High Court advised all schools and colleges to preach their students to How to counter cyberbullying. The booklet which NCERT and UNESCO released jointly contains the following contact details to complaint against cyberbullying:

  1. Dial 112. This is the number of cybercrime cell that handles cases of cybersecurity.
  2. Complaint can also be registered in the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal by visiting URL www.cybercrime.gov.in or by dialling its helpline number i.e., 155260. Complain. Complaint can also be made by submitting complaint at its Twitter handle i.e., @CYBERDOST
  3. Complaint can be made to National Commission for Protection of Child Rights using its E-mail ID i.e., cp.ncpcr@nic.in.
  4. Complaint can be made to the Ministry of Women and Child Development using its E-mail ID i.e., complaint-mwcd@gov.in.
  5. Complaint can also be made through NGO such as Childline. Childline has issued a number 1098 to complaint against cyberbullying.

A person can also report cyberbullying in the nearest Police Station in the following way:

o Dial 100 or visit near Police Station under whose jurisdiction such offence is taking place and give information regarding aforementioned offence to the Officer in charge of that Police Station under Section 154(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Section 154(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 confers the right to every person to furnish information to a local Police Station. The information is given under section 154(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 in either written or oral form.

o If the Officer in charge of a Police Station refuses to act on the complaint, then under Section 154(3) Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 complaint in writing can be sent by post to the Superintendent of Police under whose jurisdiction offence of Gold Smuggling is taking place.

o Complaint can be through online websites of the state cyber cell such as http://www.cybercelldelhi.in/Report.html, http://www.punjabpolice.gov.in/ComplaintRegistrationNri.aspx, https://uppolice.gov.in/article/en/cyber-crime etc.

Hereinbelow is the procedure to be followed in the social media platforms to report any cyberbullying incident:

  1. What’s App Messenger: Procedure to Report cyberbullying on What’s App Messenger
    a) Go to the inbox of the person or group where cyberbullying took place.
    b) Click on the three linear dots on the top-right corner.
    c) Dropdown menu will be displayed.
    d) Click on the ‘More’ option.
    e) Another menu will be displayed.
    f) Click on the first option ‘Report’.
    g) Dialog box will pop up on the screen.
    h) Click on the ‘Report’ button on the dialog box.
  2. Facebook: Procedure to Report Cyberbullying on Facebook
    a) Click on the three linear dots on the top-right corner of the post which is cyberbully.
    b) Drop down menu will be displayed.
    c) Click on the option ‘Find support or report post’.
    d) New Menu will be displayed with title ‘Please select a problem’.
    e) Click on the option accordingly.
    f) New Menu will be displayed.
    g) Click on the appropriate answer accordingly.
    h) Click on the ‘Submit’ button on the new screen.
  3. Instagram: Procedure to Report Cyberbullying on Instagram
    a) Click on the three linear dots on the top-right corner of the post which is cyberbully
    b) Menu will pop up.
    c) Click on the ‘Report’ button.
    d) New Menu will be displayed.
    e) Click on the option accordingly.
    f) New Menu will be displayed with title ‘Why are you reporting this post?’.
    g) Click on the appropriate answer accordingly.
    h) Click on the ‘Submit Report’ button.
  4. Twitter: Procedure to Report Cyberbullying on Twitter
    a) Click on the three linear dots on the top-right corner of the post which is cyberbully.
    b) Menu will pop up.
    c) Click on the ‘Report Tweet’ button.
    d) New Menu will be displayed ‘What is going on with this tweet’.
    e) Click on the appropriate option.
    f) Click on the Button ‘Done’ on the top-right corner.
  5. LinkedIn: Procedure to Report Cyberbullying on LinkedIn:
    a) Click on the three linear dots on the top-right corner of the post which is a cyberbully.
    b) Menu will pop up.
    c) Click on the ‘Report this post’ option.
    d) New Menu will be displayed with the title ‘Why are you reporting this post?’.
    e) Click on the appropriate option.
    f) New Menu will be displayed with.
    g) Click on the appropriate option and then click on the ‘Submit’ button.
    h) Click on the Button ‘Done’ on the top-right corner.

Other social platforms such as Telegram, Snapchat etc. have the almost similar procedure of reporting any fake news.

Important Do’s & Don’ts
Hereinbelow are the Do’s & Don’ts to stay safe online which are mentioned in the booklet jointly issued by the NCERT and UNESCO.

Do’s
o Create a strong password according to password guidelines, and frequently change passwords to prevent misuse.
o Read the privacy settings very carefully on social networking sites.
o Communicate only with known people.
o Be careful while posting photographs, videos and any sensitive information on websites as they leave digital footprints which stay online forever.
o Ensure that only authorized personnel access computer systems and labs.
o Report immediately to the support team of networking site if you suspect that your account have been hacked or stolen.
o Invest in a strong network security system.
o Use only verified open source or licensed software and operating systems.
o Set up your computer for automatic antivirus software and operating system updates.

Don’ts
o Don’t reveal your password to anyone other than your parent or guardian.
o Don’t reveal personal information like age, address, phone number, school name etc. as this can lead to identity theft.
o Don’t post anything which hurts others feelings.
o Don’t post your friends’ information on networking sites, which can put them at risk.
o Don’t forward anything that you read on social media without verifying it from a trusted source.
o Don’t leave your account unattended after login, log out when you are not using it.
o Don’t create fake profiles for yourself on any social networking site.
o Don’t use personal devices such as personal USBs or hard drives on public networks or computers.
o Don’t open links and attachments on social networking sites and block file extensions such as .bat, .cmd, .exe, .pif by filtering software.

After going through the above-mentioned facts, it is evident that special law is extremely required to put an end to cyberbullying. Other countries such as Canada, U.K. and other European countries have enacted special laws to deal with cyberbullying. In Tennessee, the law is enacted that punishes any person involved in cyberbullying with $2400, imprisonment for 1 year and demeanour. In India government should enact a special against cyberbullying as early as possible otherwise situation will become worse.
Authored By: Adv. Anant Sharma & Satwik Sharma

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