“A 23 year old boy being sentenced of five years of prison for uploading objectionable photographs of his ex girlfriend over a relationship gone sour” is one of its kind in the recent times for two reasons – firstly, because it is the first conviction of such a case in the state throwing light on the wide scope of cyber crimes, and secondly, the need for a precept into using social media, almost as good as an ancillary.
To begin with, cyber crimes are not a new phenomenon, however, its scope and vastness has accelerated at a tremendous pace largely because of the access to more online spaces and the assurance of a ready audience. In this case, the crime has been executed through an act of ‘revenge porn’ and colloquially known as ‘sextortion’, involves the distribution of sexually explicit images or videos, without consent of the individuals depicted. Revenge porn is often used as a means to blackmail individuals into performing sex acts or continue a relationship, or just as a means to harm a person’s reputation (Mashable India).
This is existent not only in India but worldwide and many celebrities have also been subject to it. In a more recent case whereby a report from Vice News has revealed that hundreds of explicit photos of military servicewomen were being circulated through a dropbox link wherein the photos depict women in various states of dress—from fully clothed, to topless, to nude—and there’s no attempt to hide the women’s identities. Vice News reports that the Dropbox link cropped up two weeks ago in a private Facebook group called “Blame Marines United (Non-Butthurt Edition).” Marines United was a private Facebook group featuring thousands of explicit photos of women; it had over 30,000 followers, including active-duty servicemen, veterans, and civilians. It was the center of a massive controversy in 2017 and led to Congress proposing a bill criminalizing revenge porn in the military.
What we make out of the two cases of the 23 year old using revenge porn and uploading of nude and semi nude photos of women in service is that there is inherent sexism in our mental make which is expressed through a combination of aggression on social media and online forums by the intention of demeaning and belittling the other through a sexual angle to tarnish a person’s reputation, especially that of a woman’s. This is an easiest way of seeking revenge from a woman because of the social ramifications that a woman faces by pointing fingers at her sexuality and body because of the ‘honour’ associated with it, and how her identity loops in with that of her family’s bestowing it with a badge of shame or even worse with that of ‘a sexually available’ woman.
As preventive measures, social media sites like Facebook have started to take actions to proactively detect and stop the spread of revenge porn. Legislation has also been proposed to criminalize the posting of nude pictures without the consent of the individuals depicted. Sites dedicated to the posting of revenge porn have been shut down and there is a growing awareness and movement to stop the spread of revenge porn. However, here at Centre for Social Research we use a different machinery to tackle with issues surfacing online; an ongoing program by the name of ‘Social Surfing’ has been running with the aim to address the negativity which comes with primitive and regressive ideas like patriarchy, racism, and other discriminating power structures are observed in the online world. The medium used is conducting workshops by imparting trainings to counter ‘Hate Speech’ by engaging in a more positive, nuanced, and informed manner of communication. ‘Counter speech’ is another tool that is focused on during the SocialSurfing workshops. As a part of the program, the team is also addressing social media queries from across the country to provide support and guidance on resolving matters of social media. These queries are largely resolved through the social media pages on Facebook, Instagram, Email, Whatsapp and direct phone calls. In case you are looking forward to any guidance and support, please connect with our team.
With approximately 310 million Indians users of different social media forums (as per Internet Live Stats) Social Surfing aims to engage with this user base, developing a culture of sensitive safe online surfing. In the first phase of this effort, workshops were conducted engaging with 35 colleges across India and has now reached a total of 320 to spread the idea ‘Social Media for Social Change’.