India reportedly has around 560 million Internet users. It is the second largest online market in the world. Reliance Jio revolutionised the internet with its cheap rates. Digital divide, though still prevalent, is slowly reducing. The Corona Crisis has highlighted the importance of internet and digitisation.
Social media has become a big part of all our lives. People today spend hours on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp. People using the internet and social media have surely heard about the ‘Internet troll’. A mostly random username hurling abuses and threats ranging from rapes to murders to anyone. The anonymity of the internet gives these people the freedom of spewing their venom.
India also has a trend of ‘troll armies’ where there is a planned attack orchestrated on anyone who disagrees with the ideology of the troll. Most of these attacks are politically motivated. These comments and messages promote violence and threaten people based on their race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, religious affiliation, age, disability etc. All political parties today have their own troll armies.
The worst victim, according to me, of internet trolling are women. They get the maximum slander and sexualised verbal abuses over the internet. The recent case — in which Instagram Influencer Shubham Mishra posted a video of him graphically describing all the ways in which he would vandalise the body of a female comedian, who apparently hurt his sentiments — is disturbing, to say the least.
The worst part was how a lot of people applauded him in the comments section. These people create a society where death and rape threats, mental abuse, fake news and bad language are normalised. Many women, who choose to express themselves boldly, have an opinion, dress in a certain manner almost every day face the wrath of ‘internet trolls’. These women are usually Instagram Influencers, actors, movie critics, comedians or even students just expressing their opinions, mostly political.
These threats are a violent verbal manifestation of the patriarchal and sexist mindset a lot of men, and even women who are against the freedom the internet gives to women and taking up public spaces. It is merely an extension of the harassment women face regularly in the real world. Women from marginalised sections, Muslim women, Dalit and tribal women are even more susceptible to it.
Trolling today is not a rare instance done by fringe groups to influential outspoken people, it is very much a part of the mainstream and done to anybody who has a dissenting opinion.
Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, i.e. punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc., any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character shall be punishable with imprisonment and with fine. It is a recognisable offence. This Act was enacted to have an anti-stalking, anti-phishing and anti-spamming provision, but now looks vague and ambiguous. It can also be manipulated easily. The terms used as annoyance and inconvenience does not forebear a clear meaning in criminal law.
If the troll writes something that the police doesn’t feel is offensive, then Section 66A would not be applied. The newly added Section 354A(iv) of the IPC says if anyone (while trolling also) makes a “sexually coloured remark” would be guilty of sexual harassment. He shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term that may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.