Of late, I have been seeing many incidences of trolling on personal pictures of individuals, especially women on Instagram. These photos may include photos of young women and girls in trendy clothes, showing more skin than expected by orthodox societies. Such pictures may attract the attention of self-acclaimed moral police trolls who wish to condemn women for their choice of outfits; these trolls use extremely harsh words which may even go to the extent of threatening women for their choices. They may even broaden their harassment pattern by sharing the target pictures through different profiles to defame the victims, threat the victims and create many more morphed images of the victims and this may go on till the victims reach a stage to withdraw from the social media. This indeed generates various levels of criminal liability, some of which have been addressed by laws in India. Apart from self-acclaimed moral police trolls, several women have also complained of fashion police trolls that intentionally data mine and troll women, whose fashion sense --according to the trolls -- is not up to the mark. Unlike the moral police trolls, the fashion police trolls may not create security issues or life risking threats, but they may definitely target the reputation of the victims and their self-esteem.
Now, let us see what sort of harm or damage can be done by both types of trolls:
Trolls are necessarily bullies. But bullying and trolling are not the same. Trolling can be more vicious than bullying. Trolling, in fact, attracts more perpetrators and more victims in the same thread. These victims and perpetrators may not be known to each other previously; resultant, the new “victims” who may have joined the thread to support or disagree with the primary victim may finally put all blame on the primary victim for the victimisation by way of trolling. Trolling is more public than bullying. As such the effects of trolling may be more traumatising than bullying. Trolling can not only damage reputation of the primary victims, trolls may go a long way to harass cyber bystanders or commenters who may support or disagree with the victims as well as with the trolls. The situation worsens if these bystanders or commenters are women; trolls may threaten these secondary victims with legal consequences (for aggravating the issues) which may force the latter to withdraw from social media just like the primary victims.
This may adversely affect women’s usage of Instagram. Unlike Facebook, Instagram may instantly help the user to get connected with people/group with common interest especially when the user uses the hashtags. The pictures/videos armed with hashtags may help the user to reach a wider audience. Several people including women aspiring to showcase their creativity in fashion industry, upcoming models, actors, singers, anchors, performers etc, who use the platform for getting connected with the industry people, mentors and a wider audience, may suffer hugely if trolls attack them on Instagram. Victims may not only feel completely withdrawn, they may also be pulled into unnecessary legal tangles especially if the trolls misuse their pictures that may have been uploaded by the victims for promoting certain brands (which in turn may not appreciate such negative publicity of their product).
But this in no way should mean that women should restrain from uploading pictures on Instagram. There are several ways to protect the privacy, reputation and the copyright of the pictures of the users:
Some of the above mentioned laws are non-bailable and cognizable. This means that trolling may not be considered as a simple offence especially if it results in heavy offences including creation of sexually explicit contents (the contents include not only the images, but the texts as well), etc. As such, women should not refrain from using Instagram fearing trolling. But they must be aware of their rights against trolling and the duties of the websites.
Let us unite against misogynist trolling. Let us spread the message that trolling, its modus operandi and its consequences should not be taken lightly and the criminal justice machinery must emphasise with the victims of trolling.
*This writeup was earlier published @https://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com/2019/01/trolling-on-instagram-photos-should.html
Dr. Debarati Halder
Unitedworld School of Law
(The author is also the Honorary Managing Director Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling)