India needs to get a grip on online harassment, police not helpful
India’s attempts to curb online harassment are developing a reputation for lethargy. Since the Information Technology Act was introduced in 2000 there has been only one conviction for cyber-stalking, which took place earlier this year.
The BBC went on to cite police reluctance to deal with such crimes as a major source of the problem, one victim told them, “They say it’s very difficult to track down the abusers, and it’s not worth it. Then they tell you, be careful, don’t get out of your house. Okay, then what are the cops there for, if I have to hide at home and look after myself?”
There are five separate laws which can be used to prosecute online harassment, and the conviction earlier this year was made by tracking the IP address of the aggressor. One is tempted speculate at the level of police reluctance which must be running counter to enforcement in order to produce such poor results.
Last year a report was conducted by the Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC), which Wired reported as having found that “both law enforcement agencies and social media platforms were deemed ill-equipped to handle cases of online harassment. Many also did not see the point in reporting a profile, given the ease with which another one can take its place within a matter minutes. And when approaching the police, there was often little understanding on how social media works.”
In fairness, online harassment is a problem around the globe, with many legal entities and tech companies engaged in an ongoing, iterative process of trying to clamp down on it without hindering the experience of well-meaning users. The issue has got to the point where private companies like Smart Moderation are setting up shop just to deal with the issue of online harassment.
This debate will, I’m sure, continue for some time yet. But there is a difference between the discussion in established and developed countries and the discussion in up-and-coming countries like India. If India is going to become one of the big, established players on the global tech scene it’s going to have to demonstrate it’s adequately equipped to be able to combat the potential social fallout inherent in a more “online society”.
Progress is being made with the passing of a privacy ruling by India’s Supreme Court. But there is a long way yet to go and a poor record on convicting harassment cases will not play in India’s favour on the world stage.