Online Abuse Among Students

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    Online Abuse Among Students

    Syllabus: GS2/ Government Policies & Interventions

    In Context

    • Recent research on technology-facilitated sexual violence (TFSV) indicate that, online abuse disproportionately affected young women.

    About Technology-facilitated sexual violence (TFSV)

    • Technology-facilitated sexual violence can take many forms, such as morphed images, sexualised blackmailing and bullying, digital flashing, rape threats, and explicit comments and messages.  
      • It pervades every social media and messaging platform, but Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp are the ones especially culpable.
    • It is a growing problem, especially affecting college students across India.
      • A private survey on 400 students from 111 Indian higher education institutions found that a staggering 60% of women experienced some form of TFSV compared to only 8% of men.

    Issues & outcomes of TFSV

    • Tangible consequences:
      • Abuse is linked to an individual’s name and online profile, and can remain on the Internet forever. 
      • Many survivors experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. 
      • There are tangible consequences to online abuse too such as a loss of academic or career prospects, social isolation, and violence and ostracisation by one’s own family. Meanwhile, abusers hide behind anonymity.
    • Lack of safety features:
      • India’s IT Act of 2000 criminalises some forms of TFSV, but ambiguities in the law can deter survivors from reporting. 
      • Although the law has coaxed some safety improvements, technology giants such as Meta are unmotivated to overhaul their safety features beyond the bare minimum. 
      • India has the most Facebook users in the world, yet Meta has not optimised its platforms for an Indian context.
        • For example, Meta’s safety moderation algorithms are trained mostly in American English, so abusive content in Indian languages is less likely to be detected. 
    • Inadequate artificial intelligence:
      • The third threat comes from badly designed artificial intelligence systems that repeat and exacerbate discrimination.
    • Non-implementation of guidelines:
      • Institutions of higher education (IHEs) are another crucial intervention point for online harassment of students. 
      • The guidelines for prevention and redressal are comprehensive, yet the legally-mandated mechanisms often go unused.
      • IHEs must have Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs) to investigate incidents of sexual harassment, but many institutions struggle to form, train, and manage these committees. 
      • Even if an ICC finds a student guilty of sexual harassment, there is no guarantee that higher authorities will hold them accountable.
    • Low awarenes & reporting:
      • Students also reported low awareness and utilisation of ICCs in their academic institutions. 
      • Of the students surveyed, 44% were unsure whether they could report online sexual harassment to their college at all. 
      • Not a single survivor chose to formally report the incident.

    Suggestions 

    • Strengthening government regulations:
      • TFSV demands our immediate attention as it magnifies existing social inequalities. 
      • With the upcoming Digital India Act, the government has an opportunity to strengthen its regulations for technology platforms and compel social media companies to take accountability.
    • Focusing on the needs of survivors:
      • Survivors said that aside from gender, factors such as caste, religion, sexual orientation, class, and region heightened their vulnerability online. 
      • Further research on how TFSV impacts other marginalised identities is crucial to solving the issue.
    • Addressing students’ needs: 
      • Students have proposed that their schools provide anonymous helplines and reporting options, mental health services from trained counsellors, and grassroots solutions like hosting regular workshops, safety training, facilitated discussions, and designating student organisations to lead education and response efforts. 
    • Awareness generation:
      • In addition to advocating for the proposed solutions, openly discussing TFSV without shaming or blaming survivors is another essential step — part of an ongoing movement to improve India’s levels of sexual violence, from harassment to rape.

    Government initiatives

    • Specific provisions in IT Act for cybercrime against women:
      • Violation of privacy (section 66E)
      • Obscene material (section 67)
      • Pornography & sexually explicit act (section 67A)
      • Child pornography (section 67B)
    • Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021:
      • Definition of Digital Media: 
        • It will cover digitised content that can be transmitted over the internet or computer networks.
        • It also includes intermediaries such as Twitter and Facebook, and publishers of news and current affairs content.
        • It also includes so-called curators of such content.
        • Publishers of news and current affairs content will cover online papers, news portals, news agencies, and news aggregators.
      • Three Tier Check Structure: 
        • Part III of the rules imposed three-tier complaints and adjudication structure on publishers.
        • Self-regulation.
        • Industry regulatory body headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court and High Court with additional members from an I&B ministry approved panel.
        • Oversight mechanism that includes an inter ministerial committee with the authority to block access to content.
        • The Inter ministerial Committee can also take suo motu cognisance of an issue, and any grievance flagged by the ministry.
    • The “Digital Literacy and Online Safety Programme”:
      • It aims to train 60,000 women in universities across major cities of India regarding safe use of internet, social media and email that will enable them to differentiate between the credible and questionable information available online. 
      • The programme, in its initial phase, is to cover the states of Punjab, Manipur, Haryana, Meghalaya, Delhi-NCR, Sikkim, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. 
      • The programme seeks promoting digital literacy for women including the precautions that can be taken; raising awareness about cyber crimes; and advising the users about the resources available to women; to prevent the problems and also how to handle such crimes. 

    Way Ahead

    • The ability to safely access the Internet is crucial to women’s agency, mobility, and economic development.
    • With the government showing regard for the issue of women’s safety online, there is an opportunity to discuss the following things in detail: 
      • The nature of technology-facilitated abuse, 
      • Capturing what this means, 
      • Understanding how cases impact individuals as well as communities, 
      • The language needed to capture such offences and 
      • The punishment — penalties, jail or even rehabilitation programmes for perpetrators. 

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] What are the issues & challenges surrounding technology-facilitated sexual violence (TFSV) amongst students in India? Suggest ways to deal with  TFSV.