This article on “How to deal with Online Harassment in India: Concept & Laws” was written by Toya Sen, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
In today’s digital age, the Internet is an indispensable tool required in all walks of life. With the growth of the internet and social media, communication among individuals has become easier than ever. We can interact with any person living in any part of the world in an instant. Not only for communication, but various online platforms have become an intricate part of our lives, from the exchange of ideas and online shopping to even attaining education.
The evolution of communication technologies has undoubtedly reshaped the way we interact, yet it has also introduced new avenues for abuse and maltreatment. Online harassment has emerged as one of the most troubling issues in today’s digital landscape. Unlike traditional forms of harassment, harassment through online platforms offers a sense of anonymity that encourages individuals to perform acts that they might not consider doing in face-to-face interactions. Acts such as hate comments, doxing, revenge porn, etc. may lead to psychological trauma and distress for the victim.
Therefore, we must understand the laws and protect ourselves from such online activity. This article will dive into the concept of online harassment and study the laws and remedies available in India that govern online bullying.
What is Online Harassment?
Online harassment, often referred to as cyberbullying, cyber aggression, or internet trolling, encompasses a range of harmful behaviours directed towards individuals or groups through various online channels, including social media, email, forums, and messaging apps.
According to cybercrime experts, online harassment or cyberbullying can be defined as “a hostile, deliberate act or an omission that is performed out by a particular person or group utilizing electronic forms of contact against a sufferer who is unable to safeguard himself or herself, repetitively and overtime.”
When an individual or group of individuals intimidate, bully, or harass any other person through digital means, the internet, or any other platform that uses the internet, this is referred to as online harassment. Acts such as spamming, sharing personal photos or videos without consent, phishing, making fake accounts, making hate comments or speech, body shaming, intimidating an individual for nudes for selfish reasons, etc. through various online platforms like Instagram, YouTube, X (formerly known as Twitter), messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, etc. constitute online harassment.
Online harassment can be traced back to various factors and reasons, like anonymity empowering individuals to express hatred without any consequences, personal insecurities driving a desire for power, ideological differences fueling aggression, jealousy prompting attacks, and the digital divide enabling detachment from the real-world impact of hurtful actions. Additionally, group dynamics, social norms, and the allure of attention contribute to the propagation of online harassment, highlighting the complex interplay of psychological, social, and technological elements that trigger this behaviour.
Types of Online Harassment
Some of the most common types of harassment found online are:
- Cyberbullying: Almost all forms of online harassment fall under the umbrella of cyberbullying. It involves acts that use digital platforms to harass, humiliate, or threaten someone. These acts can take many forms, such as sending abusive messages, spreading rumours, commenting with hate on their posts, or even making death threats.
- Cyberstalking: Cyberstalking is a form of online harassment where an individual receives threatening messages and is monitored and followed online. It also includes physical threats and is said to be an extension of physical stalking.
- Doxing: Doxing, or “dropping documents,” is the practice of revealing an individual’s personal and private information publicly without their consent. It involves an individual’s phone number, home address, email address, workplace, etc. The information of the victim is gathered through means of hacking and research. It is used as a form of revenge and intimidation and can also be used to encourage others to harm the victim, both online and offline. In some cases, doxing may also lead to identity theft or stalking. Many jurisdictions consider doxing to be illegal, especially if it results in harm to the victim.
- Hate Speech: Online hate speech refers to the use of discriminatory, offensive, or derogatory language, often targeting a person or a group based on attributes like race, religion, gender, or ethnicity. It can occur on various digital platforms, including social media, forums, and comment sections. Hate speech not only perpetuates prejudice but can also incite real-world harm, fostering a toxic online environment.
- Revenge Porn: Revenge porn, also known as non-consensual pornography, involves the distribution or sharing of a person’s explicit or intimate images or videos without their consent, typically intending to cause embarrassment, humiliation, or harm. This malicious act is often carried out by a former partner or someone seeking revenge, control, or leverage over the victim. Revenge porn can have devastating consequences, leading to emotional distress, reputational damage, and even legal implications.
Laws Regulating Online Harassment in India
Multiple laws in India protect individuals who are facing harassment online. A few laws regulating this offense are as follows:
- Indian Penal Code, 1860:
- Section 507: Under this section, any person who intimidates or threatens another citizen using anonymous communication has committed an offense and shall be punished with 2 years of imprisonment.
- Section 354A: Any individual who posts lewd comments on social media is liable and is punished with a fine and 1 year in prison. Moreover, if a post is related to pornography and is against the consent of any woman or is requesting sexual favours, it constitutes an offense and is punishable with a fine and 3 years imprisonment.
- Section 354C: This section deals with voyeurism and has been defined as a criminal offense under both the IPC and the IT Act, 2000. When a man, without the consent of a woman, takes a picture or video of her while engaging in a private act, it is said to be an offense. It is punishable by 1 to 3 years in prison with a fine.
- Section 354D of the IPC: This section deals with online stalking. When an individual attempts to contact a woman by Internet or any digital form of communication to establish a relationship despite her disinterest, it is said to be an offense. This act is punishable by 3 to 5 years in prison.
- Information Technology Act, 2000:
- Section 66C: This provision criminalizes the act of stealing an individual’s identity for fraudulent and dishonest means.
- Section 66E: This section deals with the act of intentionally capturing and publishing images of private areas of individuals without their consent.
- Section 66F: This section deals with cyberterrorism, including acts such as DoS attacks and hacking of various electronic devices.
- Section 67: This section criminalizes the transmission and publication of obscene materials through digital means. These include acts such as the sharing of pornographic photos and videos, obscene messages, and the screening of illegal activities on the internet.
- Section 67B: This section makes it illegal to publish or share material that shows children involved in explicit sexual acts. Additionally, it prohibits downloading and searching for such inappropriate content. Furthermore, the law condemns actions that enable child abuse online, record child sexual abuse, and entice or coerce children into sexual relationships.
As society grapples with this modern challenge, the need to understand the psychological, sociocultural, and technological factors contributing to online harassment has become paramount. Addressing this issue requires an approach involving technology companies, policymakers, educators, mental health professionals, and internet users themselves. Only through collective efforts to raise awareness, foster empathy, and institute effective preventive measures can we hope to reclaim the digital sphere as a space where constructive dialogue and respectful interaction may take place.
- Shobhita, ‘Overview of the concept of cyberbullying in India’, Ipleaders Blog, 29 April 2023, available at: https://blog.ipleaders.in/overview-of-concept-of-cyber-bullying-in-india/
- ‘Online Harassment Laws in India: Your Rights & Remedies’, Legodesk, available at: https://legodesk.com/legopedia/online-harassment-laws-in-india-your-rights-remedies/
- ‘Legal provisions and steps to report online harassment against women’, Forbes India, 30 August 2022, available at: https://www.forbesindia.com/article/brand-connect/legal-provisions-and-steps-to-report-online-harassment-against-women/79393/1