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How to deal with the dark side of social media websites

gadgets Updated: Dec 10, 2012 15:57 IST
Sneha Mahale
Sneha Mahale
Hindustan Times
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Rapper Chris Brown is currently in the news for deleting his Twitter account after a feud with comedy writer Jenny Johnson. But things really took a nasty turn when fans of the singer began sending Johnson death threats. An investigation is currently on, even as more and more people are waking up to the dark side of new-age communication media. Most are, however, still in the dark about how to deal with it.

TwitterBack home, Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan is one of those who have seen the ugly side of the social network. The ‘Badshah of Bollywood’ quit micro-blogging website Twitter in 2011. At that time, he told the press, "Everybody’s entitled to freedom of speech but posting gaalis (insults) and abusive words is another matter. I certainly don’t deserve it." The actor has since returned to Twitter and has over 32 lakh followers, but the incident is likely to leave a bitter taste forever.

Celebs aren’t the only people impacted by this menace. Suvarna Karnik, 26, media professional, received her first threat on Facebook last month over an innocent remark made during a match between India and England. "All I posted was a comment saying that Sachin Tendulkar ought to retire. Next thing, a man said he was on his way to my house and that I’d be stoned in public," says Karnik, who has since deleted the comment from her page.

Studies in recent years reveal that the number of cyber threats and bullies has gone up. Psychologists attribute this to the anonymity that social media offers, allowing people to reveal darker facets of their personality. “In real life, there is always the fear of retaliation or judgment. But social media websites keep our identities a secret. You can be whoever you want. This allows people to take on those whose opinion doesn’t match their own or celebrities who aren’t accessible otherwise. But there are also some who just do it to increase their friends and followers,” says Sharad Sharma, a psychologist who admits that a stressful lifestyle often acts like a trigger.

Where does the law stand on this issue?
The Information Technology Act, 2000, is the main statute that governs the Internet and social media in India. Section 66A of the Information Technology Act provides for punishment for sending false and offensive messages through electronic communication services.

“The aggrieved person may file a criminal complaint with the police authorities under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. However, as per recent guidelines issued by the Central Government on November 29, 2012, prior approval from the Deputy Commissioner of Police in rural areas and from the Inspector General in metropolitan areas will have to be sought before registering such complaint. An offence under Section 66A is bailable and the section provides for imprisonment for a maximum term of three years and a fine,” says Anish Ghoshal, partner, PDS and Associates, a law firm.