What is Cyber Bullying?
The rapid advancements in technology and the ever-expanding scope of the Internet and communication technologies has given rise to a new genre of misdemeanour and assault perpetrated through digital means like computers, smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc. ‘Bullying’ indicates the disproportionate balance of power or strength which is exhibited through aggressive and hostile behaviour. Bullying can be physical in the form of hitting or punching, it may be verbal involving teasing, poking fun or name-calling, it may also be non-verbal involving gestures that are intimidating or by inflicting social exclusion.
A new form of bullying has emerged in recent times which is carried out via digital means which involves sending offensive and insulting messages through emails, personal messages, SMS, WhatsApp etc., posting hateful and humiliating comments on online social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc., sending provocative and instigative images or visual representations, posting and sharing false information about someone who is being targeted thereby causing harassment, humiliation, and annoyance to the victim. This is known as cyberbullying.
Therefore, bullying can be online as well as offline. When the bullying is done online with the aid of technology it is cyberbullying. Cyber Bullying may involve “abuse and /or harassment by teasing or insulting the victim’s body shape, intellect, family background, dress sense, place of origin, attitude, race, caste, class, name-calling, using modern telecommunication networks such as mobile phones (SMS/MMS) and the Internet (chat rooms, emails, chat groups)”.1
Cyberbullying is specifically prevalent among young children and adolescents. With easier access to information and communication technologies (ICTs). The cyberspace provides a safe haven to those who want to harass, intimidate or mistreat someone from his/her peer group and express repeated aggressive and hostile behaviour anonymously. Similar acts when done by an adult translates into what is known as cyberstalking. The only distinguishing feature between the two is the age of the offender. Cyberbullying is usually engaged in by adolescents.
Types of Cyber Bullying
In order to report cases and adopt measures to prevent cyberbullying it is crucial to identify the various types of cyberbullying. Some common ways of bullying someone online are:
- posting objectionable images or visual representations or posting hateful, intimidating, humiliating or distasteful comments targeting an individual online;
- publishing demeaning, discreditable or humiliating photographs or videos of an individual;
- harassing an individual online or sending threatening messages to commit acts of violence;
- creating fake social account profiles of an individual and posting objectionable content on it;
- posting online content that targets one’s religious sentiments, class, caste, racial or ethnic proclivity ;
- impersonating or faking one’s identity to procure personal information and details about someone and misuse such information to one’s own advantage;
- hack into someone’s email account or social profile account and use it to access personal information and misuse such information.
What makes cyberbullying distinct from the traditional form of bullying is the fact that the perpetrator (bully) uses cyberspace to bully someone can do so anonymously without the victim knowing the identity of the bully. In spite of its virtual-ness, cyberbullying is a form of harassment which can impact the victim psychologically and have long-lasting effects on the victim.
Laws in India on Cyberbullying
With the ease of access to the Internet with affordable data services and smartphones and other ICTs, there has been a significant rise in cases of cyberbullying in India. Despite an increase in the cases of cyberbullying, there is no specific legislation in India which deals with cyberbullying laws.
However, cyberbullying comes within the scope of section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 which prescribes punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form. The essential ingredients for punishment under section 67 are as follows:
- anyone who publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted;
- any material in electronic form;
- which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest;
- or has an effect to deprave and corrupt persons;
- who are likely to read, see or hear the matter,
Therefore, any person who electronically publishes or transmits any obscene material which can corrupt or deprave those who view, hear or see such material shall be punished under this provision. One of the many forms in which cyberbullying may manifest itself is when the perpetrator publishes or transmits obscene material on the victim’s social media profile which can be viewed by others or send obscene material via email or personal messaging with an intention to harass and annoy the victim. In such instances of cyberbullying section 67 may be invoked.
Section 66E of the IT Act which prescribes punishment for violation of privacy may also include instances of cyberbullying within its scope.
The essential ingredients of Section 66E of the IT Act are as follows:
- Intentionally or knowingly;
- captures publishes or transmits;
- The private area of any person;
- without his or her consent;
- under circumstances violating the privacy of that person,
The term “capture” is defined to mean videotaping, photographing, filming, or recording an image by any means. The expression “transmit” is defined as electronically sending visual images with the intention that it will be viewed by people. “Publishes” has been defined to mean reproduction in printed or electronic form making it available to the public.
Privacy in the context of this provision refers to the “private area” of an individual and when a person, whether a male or female, disrobes in privacy is without any apprehension or concern that an image of his/her private area can be captured or that any part of his/her private area is not visible to the public, irrespective of whether the person is in a private or public place.
Any transgression in the circumstances stated above would amount to a violation of an individual’s privacy and it is punishable. Therefore, where a perpetrator electronically captures, transmits or publishes images of the private area of an individual with an intention to circulate such content publicly and be viewed by others causing embarrassment and humiliation to the victim will amount to an act of cyberbullying.
Additionally, section 507 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which penalizes the offence of criminal intimidation by anonymous communication may also include within its scope the offence of cyberbullying. However, the provision does not specifically refer to communication being concluded electronically, but the provider may be given a wider interpretation to include within its scope anonymous communications carried out electronically to criminally intimidate someone. Anonymity is a crucial ingredient in case of crimes perpetrated within cyberspace and online bullying can be done anonymously without the identity of the perpetrator or in this context the bully being known.
How to Prevent Cyberbullying
With an increase in the cases of cyberbullying it is crucial to devise measures that can minimise instances of online bullying and safeguard victims against online bullies. Online bullying can be stopped in the following ways:
- One of the best ways to discourage the perpetrator is to not respond or retaliate to any distasteful or hurtful messages, comments, posts, images etc. sent online. Responding to a bully inflates their sense of power and control over the situation. In fact, a person bullies with an intention to frazzle, intimidate or annoy the victim and in turn expect some reaction and continue bullying further.
- An advantage in detecting cyberbullying is that the victim can keep a copy and save the evidence of online bullying. A victim of cyberbullying must save every piece of information like chats, messages, comments, images, emails etc. sent by the perpetrator online.
- Social networking platforms like Facebook and Instagram provide an option where a user can report abusive, hurtful or objectionable content to the concerned regulators and such material can be brought down by the concerned website is found to be inappropriate.
- A user can also block a person on various online platforms to deny access to the victim’s profile and information. However, blocking is not very effective because a user can create another account and use it to reach out to the victim.
- where an individual is a victim of constant and incessant online bullying he/she may file a complaint on the Ministry of Women and Child Development helpline email@example.com or on the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal i.e., www.cybercrime.gov.in.
- One must never share passwords of one’s online accounts or phone lock code with anyone, not even with close friends. Doing so can give them access to all the personal and sensitive information which can be misused.
- Social media interactions must be done sensibly and cautiously keeping in mind what one posts online.
- One should never share sensitive personal pictures while chatting with anyone on messaging platforms. These pictures can be used to blackmail the victim or even leaked on the Internet and become a potent means of online bullying.
Conclusion and Suggestions
It is amply clear from the above discussion that there is no specific legislation in India which deals with cyberbullying. Moreover, with the increased use of the Internet and ICTs by children in recent times bullying, both online, as well as offline, has become highly prevalent. Therefore, there is a need to develop separate legislation on cyberbullying to address the issues associated with online bullying which is widespread among school students and adolescents.
Anti-ragging committees should be set up in schools to keep a strict check on bullying among students and also spread awareness among students through workshops about online bullying. Colleges and Universities also have an anti-ragging committee in place to address cases of bullying among students and prevent the occurrence of online bullying.
Furthermore, the lack of digital literacy and online safety measures expose children to greater risks online in the form of abuse like cyberbullying. Therefore, abuse of children online can manifest into cyberbullying which may be accompanied by emotional harassment, intimidation, social exclusion, and defamation. For children and young adolescents the circulation of sensitive personal information targeting a child’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the form of comments, messages, images or videos can have a devastating effect.
Moreover, the psychological and emotional impact of cyberbullying on children and young adolescents cannot be ignored. There is a need among children and adolescents to be accepted by their peers. Bullying a child by exposing his/her private information or vulnerabilities affects a child’s self-esteem, self-confidence and also affects the need of a child to be accepted by his/her peers and in the process makes them psychologically insecure.
Therefore, cyberbullying which is not criminalized in our country and is not regarded as an offence by Indian law, needs to be criminalized and legal provisions addressing various aspects of this new age problem of cyberbullying needs to be developed. More so, because the Internet is a potent tool which can cause widespread defamation because offensive content gets circulated and transmitted at a very fast pace and the reach is global, through various social media platforms, like emails, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, chat groups, gaming groups etc.
1. K. Jaishankar, Cyber Bullying: Profile and Policy Guidelines. Tirunelveli: Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, 2009.
Anasuya hails from Delhi University and she spends most of her time in Reading, Practising Yoga and Working towards community animal welfare. Her Interest area lies in Intellectual Property Law. For any clarifications, feedback, and advice, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org