Social media misused as a tool for sexual predation

Time to act: Around 957 cases were registered under IT Act for transmission of obscene and sexually explicit content through social media and Internet, as per NCRB report 2016. UP ranks top on the list of states where the cases were reported.

lucknow Updated: Mar 22, 2018 14:23 IST
Oliver Frederick
Oliver Frederick
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
Social media,Sexual predation,NCRB report
Easy passwords make accounts vulnerable to cyber criminals.(Representative image)

Lives today are wrapped around information technology, through smartphones, tablets , computers
and what not. No doubt this provides important learning tools and also helps people stay connected through social media platforms. But it is a double-edged sword: the flip side is that misuse of such platforms and access to porn sites sometimes lead to sexual predation in the virtual world.

Checklist for social networking site users
  • Make password alphanumeric (at least 8 to 10 characters), not based on personal info
  • Users, especially girls, should not post their photos or sensitive details on profile page.
  • Accept friend request only from familiar people
  • Always use privacy and security settings of the site
  • Always avoid sharing personal details for public view.

To cite a few recent examples, Uttar Pradesh police arrested an imposter Himanshu Singh in early 2017 from Lucknow for allegedly duping and sexually harassing girls through social media. According to police, the imposter posed as a major in the Indian army on social networking sites where he forged friendship with more than 25 girls, ending up harassing them sexually on the pretext of marrying them.

In the same year, a social media platform user approached the UP Police Cyber Cell in the state capital, with a complaint that his account had been hacked and the hacker was sending obscene messages to his female friends. On investigating, police found that his account was not hacked but someone known to him had cracked his password that was his mobile number.

Dos and don’ts on social media:
  • Avoid using same passwords that you use at work on a social networking site.
  • Limit usage of social networking sites to personal use only. Always assume everyone in the world will be able to see what you’re writing even if the site limits your post to your friends exclusively.
  • Try to avoid mentioning where you work, so that if you mention something you thought innocent (but that might be valuable information for hackers) they will not know who to target.
  • Be wary of what you’re posting, if you use your pet’s name as a password anywhere do not post about it on your social networking site naming it.
  • Do not log on to your social network page from public computers such as Internet cafés where someone might have installed a key logger and would later get access to your credentials.
  • Do not automatically trust that posts are from who they claim they are; if your workmate sends you a private message asking for some confidential information first verify that he/she did really send you that message as their account might have been compromised.
  • Do not send confidential information through a social networking site even if someone who has legitimate access to that information asks you to.
  • Beware of what links you click and what software you download and install. Do not trust links/software sent by your friends implicitly as they themselves might not be aware it includes malware or their account might have been compromised.
  • Always be sceptical and wary. If some one asks to be friends on a social networking site and the profile appears to match a work mate, check personally with that person before accepting him as he could be an imposter. Also be sceptical of any offers or prizes you might have been told you won, they might actually be phishing attacks.
  • Ensure your computer is up to date and has good antivirus protection; social networking sites are frequent targets of malware attacks.

As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2016 report, around 957 cases were registered under IT Act for transmission of obscene and sexually explicit content through social media and Internet. UP ranks top on the list of states where the cases were reported. The data said that in UP, around 284 cases were reported, in Assam 114, in Maharashtra 98, in Karnataka 73 and in West Bengal 64. Other than these figures, in UP around 138 cases with motive of sexual exploitation and 13 cases of insult to modesty of women were also reported the same year.

UP STF’s Cyber Cell staff said on an average they got more than a dozen cases in a month, which is a big number. “Crimes against women through social media are on the rise. And in most of the cases, they fall victim due to their own mistakes while handling their social media accounts,” said additional SP Triveni Singh, nodal officer, UP STF Cyber Cell.

Singh said one of the most common mistakes netizens made was while creating their password for social networking sites and e-mail accounts. People often chose easy passwords like date of birth or mobile number that were easy to guess and this made the account vulnerable to cyber criminals, he said.

Other than password, the social media users should refrain from accepting friend requests from unknown people, he advised. The unknown users could enter into the account holder’s profile and misuse his personal details— photographs, mobile numbers and friends’ list.

Other IT experts too endorsed the view and termed social media as a catalyst in crime against women and circulating pornography. A cyber security expert and cyber security consultant Rakshit Tandon said, “No doubt technology has changed the world but has also brought along a nuisance. It has created a sort of window, allowing people to peep into the lives of others while staying miles away. And this is turning out to be dangerous for the fair sex. “

He said social media was also misused to circulate pornography.

“Only recently the CBI busted an international child abuse pornography racket operating on a social media platform, arrested an unemployed youth from Kannauj in UP and booked him under various sections of IT Act,” he added.

Another IT expert Himanshu Rai, professor in IIM Lucknow, however, had a different take on the issue. “I don’t find social media and accessibility to porn sites the main culprit. In fact, porn was available in other forms even before the Internet era,” he said.

Rai also said going by the recent scenario when social media was misused for sexual harassment, there was a need to strengthen the laws. “Presently, we have the IT Act to tackle cyber crime but things are still hazy. There is a need to define up to what degree the punishment will be or what shall constitute harassment and so on,” he said.

Rai said that intervention from the government level was also required to stop the circulation of porn material through social media. He also said that the government should constitute a separate body to check cases of harassment that were on the rise.

First Published: Mar 22, 2018 14:23 IST