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A Saga Of Abuse

Sonal Khetarpal     February 14, 2019

In the small village of Chatrel in Rajasthan, women are upset and angry. Some of them found that their faces had been morphed on nude bodies and the photographs were uploaded on Facebook and Instagram.

Villagers queued up outside the local police station seeking redressal. But what puzzled the victims most was that how their snapshots could be accessed, misused and circulated on social media in that way.

India has the largest number of first-time netizens, a whopping 17.8 crore, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development report titled Measuring the Evolving Digital Economy. A Boston Consulting Group report also states that half of India's Internet population will be from rural areas, places where there is not just rampant illiteracy but also low digital literacy, which could become a hotbed of cybercrimes, including spreading of misinformation and fake news.

For content companies and social media platforms, an easy way to deal with these issues is to set up fact-checking teams. But Ghanshyam Tiwari, National Spokesperson of Samajwadi Party and Founder of (a K-12 learning platform), says that the model of fact-checking is broken as social media platforms thrive on clicks and moderating the content will affect their bottom line. "There is a business model for virality, but there is no business model to curb fake news."

There could be another way, in the form of a swift takedown. On several occasions, abusive/fake content and malicious posts have been removed, but by that time, one's reputation is already hurt. "Our reputation may not be solid enough to survive the strain until truth prevails, given the law-and-order mechanism of the country, which is still old school," says student activist Shehla Rashid. Not so long ago, she was trolled with hate messages and abusive feeds, alleging misuse of funds that she had raised for the Kathua gang-rape victim. Rashid denied the charges but deactivated her Twitter account for a while as the negative messages affected her.

Shashank Mohan, a counsel at Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Centre, says that the measures to counter fake news are few and fragmented right now. So, there is a need to educate everybody on what fake news is and build a culture of questioning and scepticism. Getting political buy-in may also help as political discourses often go a long way in countering the fake news menace, he adds.

Instagram to Fight Negative Posts

Instagram head Adam Mosseri admits that the platform has not effectively protected its users from content that is self-harming and suicidal. Although it bans such posts, the company has struggled to detect them and currently depends on the community to report offending posts. Mosseri says Instagram is investing in technology to identify these images better before they are seen and also to make them less discoverable.

Police Want FB to Act Fast

With the rise in cybercrime and data hacking, Delhi police often require access to users' chat and other online activities on social media platforms to solve cases. However, the authorities have raised their concerns to Facebook, saying that the social media giant takes a lot of time to respond to their queries, and asked it to provide necessary details within a shorter span. Facebook has agreed to provide details of private chats in sensitive cases, especially those involving crimes against women and children.

Quitting Facebook is Good for You

According to a study conducted by the New York University, quitting Facebook makes people less informed, but at the same time, it improves their well being and gets them more involved in offline activities such as watching television or socialising with friends and family. It also helps reduce political polarisation. The study involved 2,844 participants, aged 18 or more, who spent at least 15 minutes on social media every day.

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