Caught in the web

Is there any way to stop social media junkies &
online shaming?

Is social media a menace? It is, if handled without care. This especially becomes a threat to individuals, groups or communities when used by impulsive and unstable social media junkies who are incapable of foreseeing consequences.
The two worlds, real and virtual, which people are living in are separated by a gulf of misinformation. This is not only creating conflicts in the dual existence but also victimising the vulnerable.
The persecution of victims in the real world is worsening the situation. Several cases reported in
Meghalaya in the past months point at the society’s inability to address the conflicts and protect the vulnerable.
Body-shaming and trolling on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp are some of the chosen tools for intimidation. Those on the receiving end of such an uncivilised trend are mostly women.
A professor old enough to choose her friends was shamed for being independent. Disparaging remarks were made on Facebook about a teenager who was molested by her boyfriend whom she trusted. A public figure was body-shamed for unknown reasons. An activist is trolled for speaking her mind out. A social media post linked an MTDC employee and her father to a murder without evidence.
Such virtual incidents are as real in a small state like Meghalaya as anywhere in the country or the world.
Activists Agnes Kharshiing and Angela Rangad and journalist Patricia Mukhim became the target of social media perpetrators last year when they raised their concerns over the lineage bill of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC).
Kharshiing, who is not new to virtual and real attacks, said the words used in the messages were insulting and “better remain unuttered”.
In 2018 alone, 118 cases were registered with the cyber crime wing, according to police statistics.
This year, 56 cases have already been reported till the month of
July as against 60 in the same time period in the previous year. East Khasi Hills has been on top of the cyber crime list in the last five years.

Virtual assailants

Shaming and trolling on social media stem from personal vengeance, communal hatred and discrimination at various levels. Sharing private photographs without consent, making videos and posting them online, abusive comments, threats and accusations are some forms of virtual shaming.
Recently, photographs of a group of teenagers, including girls, smoking and drinking in a public place were uploaded on Facebook probably to teach them a lesson. In another incident, photographs of a woman and her male friend were uploaded by a bunch of self-proclaimed moral police. Blinded by arrogance, they did not realise what nuisance they were spreading in the virtual world as well as in the real.
Macdalyne Sawkmie Mawlong, a member of the KHADC, also became a victim of social media perpetrators. The culprit was arrested later. However, not all victims are as lucky as Mawlong and in most of the cases, perpetrators go without punishment.
But why do certain individuals or groups resort to humiliation on social media? One reason maybe that they are mentally unstable and gain sadistic pleasure by harassing others, more like a bully in school.
It is easy to flex muscles and intimidate people in the virtual world. These cyber bullies have delusions of superiority and collecting ‘likes’ from equally deranged people is their only goal.
“The perpetrators are cowards who cannot take the legitimate way or legal course to make things right. I think these people are frustrated and so they stoop so low and boast of their actions on social media to hide their inferiority complex,” said a young woman who had to face harassment on social media over her comment on a political issue a few months ago.
According to Kharshiing, people in today’s world are full of hatred and terror and moral values have degenerated leading to such incidents on social media around the world.

Left in trauma

The impact of social media perpetration can be deep and in many cases, pushes the victim to the edge of an abyss.
Jaynie Ningring Sangma, an activist in Garo Hills, has dealt with several cases of social media shaming. She said victims are often traumatised and their career and personal life are affected.
“This may even lead to suicide as not all people are strong enough to face such humiliation on social media,” pointed out Kharshiing.
Emotional breakdown is common in a victim and this arises from the feeling of intense guilt and shame. Women are particularly vulnerable because they become an easy prey of the society that judges them and gives its verdict without considering the other side of the story.
But victims can be both male and female and the psychological effect can be equally damaging. If families are not supportive, then victims suffer silently.
According to Dr Sonali Shinde, consultant psychiatrist, the reach of social media is more making the impact stronger. “And if the information is false, the impact is more,” she asserted.
Acute anxiety, depression, self-harm, feeling of worthlessness and despair are common in these cases. The fear of being identified in the real world often haunts victims.
Once a person is maligned on social media, the stigma remains in the real world considering the rigidity of our society. Also, it takes time to clean the filth on social media and undo things or restore one’s reputation.
“Even after a case is solved and the perpetrator is booked, is there any way to clear the name of the victim on social media? Who has the authority to put up a clarification on the virtual platform,” wondered Shinde, who often gets similar cases.

Role of police & other stakeholders

Jaynie Sangma, who has faced abuse on social media, said the main problem that victims here face is that there is no help from the police. “No arrests have been made in any of the cases. We as NGO members can provide assurance to the victims and put pressure on the police to act fast. Only cyber experts can find out the perpetrators. But there is lack of infrastructure here. Without holding anyone accountable or making arrests, it is difficult to create fear among perpetrators. So these cases are continuing,” she added.
Kharshiing informed that even in her case, no arrest has been made so far.
But police said they are doing their best to curb such cases.
“It takes time to track the chain of posts. If it is a short chain and the source is local then it is easier to find the culprits,” they said.
Mawlong’s case was reported to the SP of East Khasi Hills in the form of an FIR. The police registered a criminal case and the accused was arrested.
In the case of the students who were trolled for drinking and smoking, the content was shared on various platforms and “though the matter was not reported by any individual or group… the content was removed from the pages which had uploaded it”.
“Similarly, a case of moral policing and moral shaming was reported at Tura police station… The cyber crime cell swung into action. Requisitions were made to the networking sites to remove and block such posts. A case was also registered at Tura women police station and one of the accused has been arrested. Efforts are on to arrest others,” said the police.
“As there is a plethora of social media pages… there were hindrances in the beginning to monitor all the networking sites. But with the passage of time, new technologies, both hardware and software, were procured which have greatly enhanced monitoring of various sites and which have in turn resulted in ascertaining the individual or group responsible for malicious, scurrilous, defamatory contents and comments,” the police added.
The cyber crime wing of Meghalaya police was established in 2016 and has three sub-cells with each having a specific mode of operation. These cells superintend the cyber space and provide assistance and training to government employees, students and netizens.
According to the police, social media sites like Facebook, Twitter,
Instagram, Youtube and Whatsapp have their own sets of procedures. Some social media networks have online portals where cyber crime cases can be reported. Some networks do not have portals and in such cases, official correspondences are sent to the social media companies to provide information germane to a case.
“As most of these giant social media networks are international companies with statutory procedures totally different from our country, there are at times encumbrances in obtaining relevant information. However, the mandated procedure under the Criminal Procedure Code is to serve a notice under Section 91, in cases when any information is required to be produced before the officer-in-charge. Similarly, notice under Section 91 is being sent to these companies as an official communication so that they will provide the necessary information,” a police statement explained.
While police are bound by procedures, support for victims should come from other stakeholders. Family and friends play an important role in times of crises. A victim is already under stress and more accusations will only make the matter worse. So the family should be understanding and handle the situation with sensibility.
Society too has the responsibility to allay a victim’s fears and stand by him or her.

It should not be judgmental and point fingers at a victim. Rather, it should try and unmask the perpetrators.
Social media users should be aware of the ethics of the virtual world and should not encourage derogatory remarks or malicious content.

Fight virtual enemies

Shaming on social media is distressful but every victim should fight back. Perpetrators feed on people’s weakness and a victim should not cower in terror when he or she is maligned publicly. Police should be informed immediately.
“I ask my patients to log out from social media… if we are not mentally fit to handle (the trash on social media) we should not have accounts,” said Shinde.
The virtual world is expanding and opening up to more people, especially teenagers and youths. At a time like this, schools should tweak their curricula and introduce cyber education where young adolescents can be taught the right and safe way of using social media.
Guidelines should be stringent for those using social media platforms and police should accord equal importance to every case.
“Every citizen should be equal in the eyes of law. The enforcement should protect all and not just a few people in power,” said Kharshiing.

Message from cops

Young social media users and parents should ensure safe surfing and should not share passwords and personal information with anyone. “There are many rogue elements lurking in the cyber space searching for vulnerable victims who they can con or take advantage of. Many people have been duped and debased on social media and the only way to circumvent such unethical activities is by refraining from disclosing confidential information and shutting the doors of social media to your personal life.
“Think before you act and do not upload photographs, videos or reply to any unsolicited messages as these maybe used against you by predators,” the police said.
Communication is a must and parents should communicate and know what their children are doing in the cyber space. They must also monitor that the security and privacy settings of their children’s social media account are set to the highest level and that their activities are closely monitored.
In case any objectionable matter on social media has to be reported, the first and foremost action is to take a screen shot of the item and save the uniform resource locator (url) of the post. The same can be forwarded to the nearest police station or to the cyber crime police station.

One can reach out to Meghalaya police at, or on social media pages like Twitter (@meghalayapolice), and Instagram (@meghalayapolice). One can also Whatsapp on 6033090114.
“The police department is sincerely dedicated and committed towards ensuring a safer cyber world for all citizens and this is evident from the multiple awareness programmes which have been conducted in various localities and educational institutions. Initiatives have also been made to spread the message about the dos and don’ts while operating in cyber space through social media, media houses and other intermediaries. As and when a case is being reported, necessary steps are taken to ensure that justice is served to the victims but at times, few drawbacks such as the differences in legal obligations of the various social media companies, forensic examination of electronic devices, delay in reporting of crimes and other issues have culminated in making the task of persecuting the accused persons more daunting,” said the police.

~ Nabamita Mitra

(Images: Pinterest, Pexels)

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