‘Friends’, the TV sitcom, endeared itself with viewers for nearly 10 years and all of us crave those ‘Central Perk’ moments. Imagine these lovely moments being tainted by crime though. You trust your friends. Take your selfies and allow them too also. And a morphed picture with your name with nude or sexually explicit content is created and shared on Whatsapp groups you are part of. Only because you refused the advances of one of the ‘friends’ in the group.
You are in a relationship. Armed with mobile phones, getting a bit adventurous did not seem out of place. After all these were digital photos and videos only with you and your partner. Even after the break up you did not worry – until the calls and messages that start threatening you with exposure of your intimate videos and photos online. If you do not agree to the illegal demands of your ‘ex’. And these demands include sexual favours or blackmail for money.
You are being trolled. Bullied. And abused. Including using sexually explicit content.
Husband and wife split up and husband posts their intimate moments on his social media account. When wife confronts him, he counters claiming, she had agreed to him taking these pictures and videos.
Public shaming or body shaming are some of the strongest tools in the criminal’s kitty to silence the victim. No person would want their privacy violated online. No one would want their private or sexual moments to be circulated online.
The law is clear – just because you agreed to such photos or videos being captured does not mean that they can be shared online. An ‘ex’ or husband or anyone sharing such content online is still a criminal offence.
But how could victims seek remedies for removal of content, which violated their privacy or rights? The only alternatives that was open to victims under earlier rules was to hope that Intermediaries would voluntarily remove such content or through issuance of a Government or Court order for such removal. These were neither quick nor viable options for victims.
Good news – You have quick and no cost remedies now!
On February 25, 2021, the Government notified the Intermediary & Digital Media Guidelines(https://www.meity.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Intermediary_Guidelines_and_Digital_Media_Ethics_Code_Rules-2021.pdf), which has substantially simplified the process for victims to reach out to the platforms for remedies. Under these new rules, every Intermediary, which includes social media platforms and mobile apps have to give details of a Grievance officer. This Grievance officer is required to inter alia receive user complaints and respond to them within the timeframe of 24 hours to a maximum of 15 days.
For content such as the above, i.e., revenge porn photos or videos, sharing of private, intimate or sexually explicit content online or through chat apps such as Whatsapp, or even fake pictures or videos created through morphing, the platforms have to remove them within 24 hours of the user’s complaint. This alternative that victims have been provided with, will be of immense help to all those who only wish to stop being victimized further through voyeuristic online sharing of their private moments or videos that violate their privacy and dignity.
In his speech at the release of these new Guidelines, Shri. Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister for Electronics and Information Technology specifically mentioned to a case “Prajwala”, which he said was responsible for some additions in the new Guidelines. This case dealt with rooting out child sexual abuse material (‘CSAM’) and rape and gang rape videos (‘RGR’) from online platforms. Yet, these categories have not been specifically listed under the said provision. Victims can take courage though, as the wording of this Rule is clear enough to include CSAM and RGR also for removal within 24-hours. The Guidelines refer to significant Social media platforms (i.e., those social media platforms with 5 million registered users) and requires such platforms to undertake additional protective mechanisms, especially with reference to CSAM and RGR. Social media platforms ought to provide a specific and separate reporting mechanism for all categories covered under the 24-hour rule mandates. This will help victims get their remedies faster and with more efficacy.
When it comes to online crimes, prevention and protection works best but effective and quick remedies when victim rights have been violated is what will ensure true justice. There are a lot of issues and concerns and many provisions, which may be unsustainable under law, in the new Guidelines. All of these should not divert attention away from the significant and important additions made to protect victims.
The writer is an Advocate, Supreme Court of India & Founder – Cyber Saathi Foundation. This column in collaboration with SheThePeople.TV takes forward the Cyber Saathi initiative to empower victims through knowledge of threats and vulnerabilities on electronic domains and remedies to combat them through laws and remedies. This monthly column has been published on the first Friday of the month.
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