‘Put norms in place’

Even as online abuse is on the rise, more often said to be anger-driven rather than motivated, the fact is that there is very little to actually stop the abusers. The IDP study notes that uncertainty about who the attackers ‘really’ are in a world of fluid identities, fears about heightened attacks, a lack of awareness, and a mistrust of legal systems all combine to serve as potential barriers to addressing what is a growing problem for women across the world.

Some feel that it is not right to attack anonymity in an attempt to tackle incidences of trolling. Anonymous speech is necessary to protect an individual’s privacy and right to freedom of speech. As Snehashish Ghosh, Policy Associate, Center for Internet and Society says, “…anonymity can be abused but we cannot have policy and regulations based on fringe cases in the same way that we cannot ban knives because it can be used to stab people as well as cut vegetables.”

This is also a reason why there are objections to Section 66A of the IT Act. “Section 66A was intended to be anti-stalking, anti-phishing and anti-spamming provision. But in its current form it is vague and ambiguous and can be easily abused. It uses terms such as annoyance and inconvenience which does not have a clear meaning in criminal law,” Ghosh explains. Section 66A of the Information Technology Act pertains to punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services.

Kavita Krishnan says that instead of trying to bring about change in the nature of the Internet, the community needs to put in place a set of norms. For example in her case, the company that hosted the chat should have moderated the session.

The fact of the matter is that law is just one aspect of this growing menace. This unrest against opinionated women, expressing threats and hatred, seem to be a reflection of a deeply patriarchal society fighting against the progress women have made. Overall, Internet penetration in India is about 12 per cent of the population. And it would be fair to conclude that those who use it are educated. So the abusers are also educated. How many men are threatened of being stripped and raped? Why is there this perverse desire to attack women?

The IDP study quotes British journalist Laurie Penny explaining this: “An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the Internet. Having one and flaunting it is somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male keyboard-bashers to tell you how they’d like to rape, kill and urinate on you.”