A fine line: Cyberbullying and Cyber Crime in Sikkim
In an age where a person needs the Internet connection as much as they need food, a computer/smartphone can be either a benevolent force or full of malice. The Internet is without a doubt one of humanity’s most used inventions in today’s day. As said by Voltaire around 1793, “with great power comes great responsibility”, it is almost certain that the Internet is a powerful tool which can overturn governments, expose criminals, bring about a revolution, garner humongous donations, enlighten people, and the same tool, if used for the wrong reasons, can help project a criminal as a saviour, propagate propagandas that make people vote for the wrong people or make people hate based on human differences or make people believe something utterly dogmatic and hate-mongering.
The Internet is powerful, with the age of social media and extreme social sharing; the cyber world has become synonymous with life, omnipresent in our lives and our lives omnipresent in it. The cyber-world has indeed become ubiquitous. All of our data, the pictures, the videos, the private messages, are a part of the big web.
People’s days begin and end with the Internet, and not just social media where some relative or the other makes sure to send cheesy good-morning/night GIFs. The TVs that we watch, the shows that we stream, the cars that we drive, the washing machine, and even the fridge has become equipped with Artificial Intelligence (AI) which is connected to the World Wide Web. The Internet and the AI have become so ubiquitous that they now are a part of homes, where people yell for “Alexa”, “Cortana”, “Siri” etc., for most of their mundane works to be done or assisted by these AI.
With such a huge platform that houses billions of people’s data, some public and some private, the cyber world is not a world devoid of crime. This is where we get introduced to the world of Cyber-Crime. Cybercrime encompasses an array of activities, generally dichotomised as:
- Crimes targeting computer networks or devices, which include uploading of viruses and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks.
- Crimes using computer networks to advance other criminal activities that include cyberstalking, phishing and fraud or identity theft.
Cybercrimes have seen a rise in numbers, and ingenuity. These crimes mostly involve data-thefts, financial fraudulence, scams, corporate hacks and espionage, and an array of other crimes that relate to money. The other spectrum of crimes involves crimes against individuals or communities.
These crimes have happened in India and are happening in Sikkim as we speak, so to probe these crimes, Sikkim Chronicle looked into the case of Smriti*, a 14-year-old girl from Gangtok who has been a recent victim of cyberbullying and cybercrime. Smriti was being bullied and trolled on social media, mainly on Facebook by certain pages (names of the pages withheld for security purposes), which caused her mental health to deteriorate and also caused a lot of trouble for her family.
“Actually it was more than 2 months I wasn't using my account because my phone wasn't working properly. One day my childhood friend texted me on WhatsApp saying what happened to my account why I was posting shit things in FB (Facebook). So after some time, I tried to check my FB account but the hacker already had changed the password so I opened a new account to post on my last account that the id was hacked but before that he/she blocked me and after a few days everyone starting sharing trolling memes of me,” Smriti describes her plight.
Smriti’s mother, Shobha*, informed about how her daughter had started languishing away and started being dissociated, which is one of the markers of depression. Shobha said how the whole family had been facing a despondent state since Smriti had begun to be harassed online.
“For me and the family my little girl is everything, she is the light of the family, now after this everything has been sad. I prepare food every day and it goes to waste; she doesn’t eat well and seeing that, the whole family loses appetite,” says Shobha.
According to the Intel Security blog, 'Cybermum India', cyber-bullying can take many different forms in its wake, like tagging inappropriate pictures, spreading rumours, insulting comments and filming and posting videos online, etc. While these forms of bullying can have negative long-term effects for victims, cyber-bullying has additional fallout. Malicious tags, cruel comments and unwanted pictures, once uploaded, can never be completely erased from the web and run the danger of being resurrected any time. It is also informed by experts that these can be more vicious if the victim's protest, as they tend to last longer, longer there are protests.
A small business owner by profession, Shobha is the sole provider for the family, and as informed by her it is beyond her to pull bigger strings to get her daughter the justice she deserves. With justified anger, pain, and love for her daughter, Shobha says, “ I just want my baby to go back to the jolly little girl. She is good in dancing and has represented the state in many stages abroad as well, she is good in her academics and she is a great daughter, I just want my daughter’s name to be clear of all the wrong things these trollers and memers are saying about her.”
A meme is, according to the British biologist Richard Dawkings, is an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means. An Internet meme is an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, which is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations. A troll is an ugly mythological creature from Norse Mythology and Scandanavian Folklores, who is often secluded, living under rocks and mountains, far from human habitation; they are rarely helpful to humans. An Internet troll, on the other hand, is someone who creates a discord on the Internet by starting quarrels or upsetting people by posting inflammatory or off-topic messages in an online community. A social media troll is someone who purposely says something controversial to get a rise out of other users.
To understand more on the art and purpose of trolling Sikkim Chronicle spoke to Nirmal Sharma a comedian and an Internet troll who administrates the page Sikkimese Troll, which is pretty famous in the state. Nirmal informs that comedy should also be used for awareness and to sensitize people on pressing matters. Sikkimese Troll has been known to troll many prevailing personalities from Sikkim. He also informs that trolling can also be used to express hate and contempt but that is not what he feels the purpose of comedy in general, aided by trolls and memes is.
“I take permission most of the times before trolling people, if it is to promote something or to create awareness, those times are different, but most people I troll are people I know and can laugh it out with. Memes and trolls can make people aware of present issues and scenarios can serve the society while keeping the sense of humour to it” says Nirmal.
“Memes and trolls are coming up as trends and I see a lot of youngsters and teenagers doing it, if it is done ethically it can bring about informative knowledge and awareness. Bullying, harassing and hate speech is also common in these trolls and memes but I feel like that is not the way and I would also like to advise people to not be insensitive and engage in such types of content creation,” he adds.
In Smriti’s case, on top of her Facebook account being hacked, the two meme pages on Facebook in question were seen to target only her and the pages were created to bully and harass her. At first, the meme pages started casually insulting Smriti’s aspirations of becoming a model when she grew up, the insults were then taken to the extremities. The pages then started to upload screenshots chats in which Smriti had sent explicit and vulgar messages with people, which was not her according to Smriti. The pages when questioned said that they had proof of Smriti being characterless and that they’d send the proof in via messenger (an extension app for Facebook messaging). While many of Smriti’s friends, family and supporters asked for the proof the pages provided some questionable proofs of screenshots of vulgar images and sexual messages between people that may or may not have been Smriti.
SC spoke to the culprits sharing shameful messages and memes being shared by other teenagers. The admin(s) of these pages refrained from communication but later, the reporter investigating the story was blocked on all social media platforms. With persevered attempts to get in touch with them and hear their side of the story, the admin admitted to hacking Smriti’s account but justified the action by saying that the girl was characterless and also implying racist slurs on her being of Bengali descent.
The pages began to block anyone and everyone who tried enquiring about the case. The pages remained active on projecting hatred towards Smriti and associating her close male friend Indra* (name changed) and a few other people. The pages continued with their narrative of questioning the girl’s character and then adding Indra in the narrative as well.
The bullying started in March while the lockdown was still fresh. On April 10th 2020, Smriti and Indra, along with their families filed a complaint at the Ranipool Police Station under GD Entry 79/2020, it was done so because they were told by the IO that an F.I.R. would stretch the case and that a GD would suffice to run investigations.
“The police officer told me to not pursue an F.I.R because it would stretch to court and legal issues, me being a small business owner didn’t want to do that so we just filed a GD. The officer also told me that this GD would be sufficient to pursue an investigation and get justice for my child,” Shobha says.
“I don’t think the police will be sufficient but this is happening in lockdown so it will be a challenge anyway. I just want my child to get justice and the culprits to be caught so no other family, no other mother should have to face this,” she adds.
To know the ramifications of these type of cyberbullying and when the line between bullying and crime collapses, Sikkim Chronicle spoke to Sujay Singh Hamal, a senior lawyer who has dealt with these kinds of cases.
Hamal informed over the phone that there is a law that provides a remedy against most of the prevalent cybercrimes. 'Cybercrime' is not a defined term but an umbrella term attributable to any offence involving an internet device. Most of the cyber crimes are listed under the Information Technology Act (IT Act), 2000, which was amended in 2008.
He also informed that complaints could be made for violation of privacy under S.66E as also under S.67 and S.67A IT Act in addition to IPC provisions. S.67A and S.67B also provide for prosecution of pornography and child pornography respectively. In the case of the latter, the provisions of the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) may also be invoked. Irrespective of the age of accused, if the offence of circulating sexually explicit content or violating privacy through the dissemination of images or videos of private parts is committed, the person is susceptible to prosecution by law.
An officer-in-charge informed that this case is of the Cyber Crime Branch jurisdiction but since no F.I.R. was launched the Crime Branch wouldn’t be involved. After a month when SC spoke with the IO, the officer informed that the case was being followed up and was successfully handled with. The officers were reluctant to say anything on the record and said that flashing the names of the pages and the victim will only encourage more people to go and look them up and land the family into more trouble.
“The case is being looked at and we didn’t want the lady (Shobha) to get into deep waters since she is a small shop owner, so I advised her to trust us with the GD. We did look into the case and have reported the pages, now the pages are disabled and no such bullying and harassment has continued,” informed the officer. This was past several weeks since the GD was filed.
Upon being asked about what statement this action means and how would the blocking and disabling of the pages would help, while the culprits roam free, the officer said that there can be a longer more detailed investigation but that requires a lot of effort and involves a lot of people from the Crime Branch to the Ministry of Home Affairs, refraining to answer the question of why they failed to catch the culprit.
While the police did succeed to stop the bullying, the culprits behind this are still at large and it only begs a question that if they succeed to get away once, what proof is there that they won’t do it again to someone else’s child? The same question Shobha asks, “I am not satisfied with this, I am just concerned why other parents let this go so easily because my girl might have been the centre of the bullying but there are other kids who have been bullied and trolled as well?”
She adds, “I have been speaking to a CID officer who can help me with this, but they were in a vacation and seeing the COVID-19 pandemic we didn’t want to be insensitive and burden the police. I don’t want the culprits to get away so easily, so after all, this is over, I will file an F.I.R. Right now the bullying has stopped but what if it starts again?”
Upon investigation and questioning different sources, Smriti, her family, the police, and her friend Indra, all of them said that Smriti’s friends, probably a group of them who had a personal vendetta against her, might have done this.
Cyberbullying has caused countless lives to be devastated, inciting mental health problems and also pushing some to even commit suicides or attempt to harm themselves. While armed with cameras, Internet on their smartphones, raging hormones and a misplaced sense of morality, the instances of revenge porn in cyber-bullying attacks by children against children are on the rise.
This case of Smriti is only one of many and it asks all sorts of questions to the Sikkimese mind-sets of dismissing these issues which are more of the Millenial’s and Generation Z’s domain, but these are prevalent none the same, the suicide rates in youngsters and teenagers, the substance abuse that they are seen to delve in, and most of all the mental health issues that social-media norms, let alone the bullying brings, all of these are as serious as the pandemic itself. Majority of the society has turned its back on these issues but they are plaguing the state, mostly destroying the future of the state, which are our youngsters, none the same.