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Know Your Rights: Online Harassment

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Feb 14, 2020

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In Know Your Rights, we simplify the rights you’ve been given, so you know how to exercise them.


According to a survey, eight out of 10 people in India have experienced some form of online harassment, with 41% of women having experienced sexual harassment in cyberspace, The Hindu reported.

Respondents of the above survey, commissioned by cybersecurity solutions firm, Norton by Symantec, said the most common forms of harassment were, “abuse and insults, malicious gossip and rumors, malicious comments or threats on social media, trolling and attacks or abuse from a coordinated group.”

Given that online spaces can get so harmful, it’s important to know the resources and rights one has to tackle online harassment.

What is online harassment?

Under the Information Technology Act, 2000, (IT Act) online harassment is used as an umbrella term to describe the use of the internet to harass, threaten or maliciously embarrass another party. It can be in the form of verbal, sexual, emotional, or social abuse and aimed at a person, a group of persons, or even an organization.

Is email harassment, a type of online harassment? And can I do something about it?

Yes. According to Advanced Research in Digital Forensics and Cyber Security (ARDC), email harassment entails activities such as fake email IDs to bully, threaten, blackmail, cheat or commit financial frauds with the victim. These emails are often offensive and aggressive in order to threaten or blackmail the victim, the ARDC states. Under section 66A of the IT Act, perpetrators can be penalized or imprisoned up to three years for committing this crime.

Are there any laws to protect me against cyberstalking?

ARDC defines cyberstalking as an act that entails several activities of online harassment meant to torment or terrorize the victim. For instance, keeping a tab on the victim’s online activities, sending them threats or unsolicited messages and emails.

Section 354D of the IPC deals with stalking in all forms. If a man continues his attempt to pursue a woman via the internet, e-mail, or any other form of electronic communication without her consent, he can be jailed for three years if the offense is being committed for the first time. On repeating the crime, he can be awarded a five-year jail sentence. He may be liable to pay a fine regardless of whether it’s his first or second offense.

What do I do if a perpetrator is posting derogatory content about me?

Sending, posting or sharing derogatory content is known as cyber defamation. ARDC says it is usually done by hacking the victim’s account or by making a fake profile with details of the victim that it comes across as real. “Once again, most cyber defamation victims are women and inflicting mental trauma and agony are the main motives,” states ARDC.

Section 499 of the IPC covers defamation, wherein, anyone making derogatory remarks on social media, or posting obscene images or videos in public can be liable for jail time of two years.

What if someone is misusing my photographs without my consent?

If your photographs or videos are used to produce adult content, it’s known as cyber pornography. It is defined as the act of generating, sharing, downloading or importing adult content in cyberspace. This includes adult websites as well magazines produced/published/printed using computers, per the ARDC.

Under Section 345A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), those posting lewd comments on social media can be imprisoned for a year and can be asked to pay a fine too. Those posting and messaging pornographic content without a woman’s consent or requesting sexual favors can be imprisoned for three years under the same section.

Section 354C of the IPC protects women against voyeurism. If a man, without the consent of a woman, is found to be capturing photographs or videos while being engaged in a private act, he is punishable by law for one to three years and a fine.

What if I’m a victim of trolling or doxxing?

Both trolling and doxxing don’t have specific laws that cover the two. Trolling is when a victim gets cornered on social media or an online community when perpetrators send inflammatory messages in order to provoke them into an emotional, upsetting response. Doxxing, on the other hand, is when a victim’s personal information or documents are shared without their consent. This information may be used for any kind of fraud such as prolonged harassment or prank calls.

However, section 499 of the IPC, which as mentioned above, protects victims against harassment through remarks on social media or by posting obscene photographs could help in this case. Even Section 507 of the IPC, which addresses any individual whose intention is to intimidate women or threaten them anonymously — online could help by awarding the perpetrator a jail time of two years.


Related on The Swaddle:

Let’s Start Treating Online Harassment as What It Really Is — a Crime


How do I file a complaint if I face any of the above?

A complaint can be filed anywhere, as cybercrimes don’t have any jurisdiction.

As per the ARDC, you can approach three places in any city to lodge a complaint against a suspect:

  • Cyber cells: They’ve been established especially to deal with victims of cybercrime. They come under the purview of the crime investigation department. In case a cyber cell is lacking where you reside, then you can file an F.I.R. at a local police station. If you are unable to file an F.I.R., you can approach the police commissioner. It is compulsory for a police station to register an F.I.R.
  • The National Commission for Women: This organization offers services to help victims of online harassment deal with the police. The Commission has the power to set up an inquiry committee, which is empowered to conduct spot inquiries, collect evidence, interrogate witnesses and summon the accused to expedite the investigation.
  • Reporting on social media websites: If both of the above are difficult to do for any reason, reporting on social media websites is also an option. Most of these websites have the option of reporting the crime since they are obliged under the IT rules 2011, to take action within 36 hours of reporting to stop the offensive content from spreading.

Is there anything I need to keep in mind before I go to make a complaint?

If you’re a victim of any form of cybercrime, don’t delete photos, emails, or any other information sent by the perpetrator since doing so makes it difficult to trace evidence in the virtual world. Do consider taking screenshots or printouts of the evidence and report the incident on the forum it s taken place, for instance, social media website, or a blog, that a form of harassment or crime has happened. Then, think about filing an F.I.R to start the process of criminal investigation.

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Written By Anubhuti Matta

Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she’s busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.

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