Photographs are the heart and soul of most social media platforms. In the digital era where the cost of film is no longer a consideration, photos are taken and shared without much thought. More often than not, these photographs come from private repositories and are meant to be shared with only a select few people – those on our friend list. But despite privacy settings, the reach of our photographs is bigger than expected, often falling in the hands of the antisocial elements lurking on social media.
Since the advent of social media, online harassment has become rather widespread. While being active on social media does come with its own set of risks attached, people, mostly women, who simply passively scroll through their feeds are now fearful of their privacy. Privacy, in fact, has become a redundant inclusion in our vocabulary with its definition being vague at best and its enforcement beyond our control.
Photographs are probably one of the most exploited resources of these cyber-bullies. Even if one does not upload their own pictures, they have little control over the activities of friends, families and third parties. A photographer at a club clicked a picture of you last weekend – while it might have been consensual, you now have nearly zero control over that photograph. Within minutes of the upload, our photographs are viewed thousands of people without us even being aware of its reach.
Women are usually the ones who come under fire and bear the brunt of these photographs, for no fault of their own. The easy availability of these photographs opens a whole new world of possibilities for bullies to thrive. With the malicious intent of our patriarchal society, these photographs are misused, often morphed, by a spiteful ex or a blackmailing stranger until their demands are met or our legal system springs into action, whichever comes first. With the level of apathy being as high as it is, most victims often have little hope of justice and land up doling out large sums of money, at best, to get out of these sticky situations. Just like in other crimes against repressed factions of society, victim-blaming is rampant here too.
The stress of being online sometimes overpowers its myriad advantages. While social media has been a boon in various ways, it has also become a tool of widespread harassment and hate. It has provided bullies with yet another device to carry out their mischief.
It might be a while before we’re able to turn the legal system in our favour and be more inclusive of such crimes but in the meantime, it is essential we learn to take matters in our own hands. On a personal level, we should start taking our own privacy more seriously and not blindly entrust it to the protocols of our social media platforms. Perusing the legal jargon of the terms and conditions might seem like a daunting task but is pertinent in the given times. We must seek clarification from the social media platform on any ambiguous clause.
Constantly monitoring the privacy control settings we are given at the user level is equally important to ensure that nothing is visible without our authorization. Most social media platforms give us control over who exactly our pictures are visible to with options such as ‘public’, ‘friends of friends’, ‘friends only’ and ‘custom’. The safest option would be to select the few people we want to share our post with. While it might seem a little tedious, it is the way in which we can administer maximum control over our photographs. Asking friends and family who upload images of us to do the same would also add an extra layer of control and security.
In spite of all these measures, if things happen to go south, legal machinery is in place to deal with the situation at hand. Cyber Crime Cells have been established where complaints against abuse can be registered. Proof of the crime and any related documentation is usually required to carry on the procedure. In case of any confusion or lack of redressal, consulting lawyers specialising in this field would be a prudent idea.
At the society level, we must step up and deal with these crimes openly instead of brushing them under the carpet. The power of social media is immense and if we’re able to come together in large numbers, a crowd-sourced vigil mechanism against cyberbullying is not incomprehensible. Let us restore social media back to the intent for which it was created.