Why I Did Not Take Trolls Lying Down, And Why You Shouldn’t Either

Facebook logoEditor’s Note: With #NoPlace4Hate, Youth Ki Awaaz and Facebook have joined hands to help make the Internet a safer space for all. Watch this space for powerful stories of how young people are mobilising support and speaking out against online bullying.

I was subjected to a lot of online threats and hatred after I wrote an opinion piece on Youth Ki Awaaz. And the trolling only increased after my media statement, and lewd comments were made on me after I spoke to The Quint live.

However, this has made my resolve stronger because I believe that crawling through hatred and violence (offshoots of fear), only strengthens them. This is why I along with several student activists are protesting to #StopOnlineMobs.

This is also to clarify that the movement #StopOnlineMobs upholds Freedom of Speech in the highest regard and condemns acts of violence online. It is due to these threats that a lot of people are wary of speaking out, in what essentially is a free country.

We are not against any particular group. The movement is an all-encompassing one, joined by hundreds of students to clean up the internet and stand together against ‘Troll Culture’.

The petition is to put an end to the extreme amount of trolling that has become a daily part of online conversations today. It is assumed that when you take to the internet to express yourself, you must be ready to laugh off death threats, sexual harassment, rape and lynching threats.

What about the basic principles that our constitution upholds? The constitution guarantees Prohibition Against Discrimination under Article 14 and also guarantees the Right to Life and Personal Liberty. All these incidents, be it cyberbullying or online mob culture, are an infringement of our basic rights. Though there are certain provisions under the Indian Penal Court sections 499, 503, 507, 354-A, 354-D and section 66E of IT ACT; but to what extent do they actually guarantee protection against all these violations?

Not just celebrities and public figures, the common man has also becomes inured to incessant trolling they have to suffer through for saying something that challenges other people’s opinions.

On the Global Youth Online Behaviour Survey conducted by Microsoft India ranked third in cyberbullying – a virtual offence with very real consequences. Hate mails, online gang wars, fake profiles and digitally-altered photographs are abound on the web with perpetrators “out for blood”. Nothing facilitates the game of one-upmanship like the internet because it is the easiest way to get back at someone, and almost always under an alias.

On the complaint of a woman television journalist, Delhi Police registered an FIR in June 2015 against a conspicuous though anonymous Twitter handle. Swati Chaturvedi alleged that the handle belonged to a senior journalist who heaped sexual abuse on her and harassed her online, goading his 40,000 odd followers also to troll her. Social media has given people a platform to air their views but it has also left them vulnerable to slander, character assassination, intimidation and defamation. Till March 2015, the government used Section 66A of the Information Technology Act as the remedy for all online abuse, but the Supreme Court struck it off from the law books.

The apex court found the section to be not just “vaguely worded“ but also in violation of the Constitution since it criminalized speech on the subjective annoyance of a user. The SC further faulted the provision for creating a new offence only on the basis of the medium used for communication. Does this then mean that an important weapon against online abuse has been taken away by the SC?

Being part of a country known for its pluralism and the Right to Freedom of Speech & Expression, we believe this is one thing that needs to be seriously countered. The problem arises from a lot of factors, from immense hatred to the absence open conversation, to peer pressure. However, troll culture is something that is being talked about, which is a start. For instance, the way Gurmehar Kaur was infamously trolled for issuing a statement online that condemned violence, I, Simran Keshwani, also met with the same fate on an article that talked of the historicity of vigilantism in India. We were openly given murder threats and sexually explicit abuses, which in the online world are “not serious, only words”. Even after reporting the trolls to Facebook, their IDs remained unsuspended as Facebook did not find open threats as a violation of its Community Guidelines.

Needless to say the trolls had to be endured with and ultimately ignored. But, that did not stop the conversation from coming to the forefront. A lot of mainstream media and news channels have examined the Troll Problem, and have found that it is a lack of viable laws and control that embolden people to exhibit worst kinds of behaviour behind the screen.

It is in vain to extenuate the matter. People may cry, “peace-peace” – but there isn’t any peace. The struggle has actually begun. We need to act now.

Here’s a list of things our petition demands:

1. Firstly, we are against murder threats, lynching threats and rape threats and would like strict laws for the same. We uphold the Freedom of Speech in the highest regard and would like to clarify that disagreements over the web do not constitute violent threats, neither are we advocation an infringement on a person’s right to express themselves online.

2. Secondly, we demand fast-tracking of these reports and a separate centre/helpline for reporting against Cyber Harassment and Threats. Most of the complaints registered online are not acted upon immediately and there is little awareness regarding the available legal recourses. Reports made take days to be looked into, and almost always amount to minor warnings to the perpetrators. We demand stricter punishment and a complete ban for repeat offenders on social media sites.

3. More discussions on Troll Culture using NGO networks that could conduct Seminars in schools and for the media to actively report these cases. Many times these cases are dismissed as “too normal” to be sensationalised.

4. We demand better accountability and moderation from social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter. At the moment, making fake accounts that issue such threats is rather easy. Moreover, the moderation process on Facebook is far too arbitrary. At best, it only gets those comments deleted. We demand that social media companies improve on their moderation methods, act on complaints in a specified time frame, and report legitimate instances of rape and death threats to law enforcement directly. This not only protects the victim but also makes it easier for the police to act faster as social media firms have access to the perpetrators’ details like their IP addresses.

We will be actively campaigning under the name ‘Stop Online Mobs’ till the authorities react. Please join us in large numbers if you believe in restoring the sanctity of open discussions.

You can join us the movement here.