There is more than enough evidence to suggest that in addition to causing emotional scarring and other psychological damages, online abuse can actually lead a person to take their own life.
Take the 2020 case of Japanese professional wrestler, Hana Kimura, as an example. The 22-year-old woman, who was also a very popular reality television star, was a victim of systemic online abuse which led her to take her own life using toxic gas in her apartment. Apparently, Hana was subjected to a series of persistent hate messages from multiple accounts, and humiliation online in public. This spurt in cyber trolling was supposedly triggered by her featuring in one of the episodes of the now cancelled TV reality show ‘Terrace House” wearing her wrestler gear.
Change in Japan’s Cyberbullying Laws
Initially, though Japanese authorities arrested three men responsible for Hana’s death, the existing penalty was only a fine of ¥10,000 ($75) max and lesser than 30 days of jail time Following Hana’s death, there was a huge public demand for stricter laws against cyberbullying, joining hands with Hana’s mother, Kyoko Kimura, who was crusading for tougher laws following her daughter’s death.
Japanese lawmakers, who have been trying to make changes to its cyberbullying laws, after a spurt in cases of online harassment in Japan and after Hana’s death, have brought in new legislation regarding cyber trolling. The new law increases the jail term to one year and a maximum fine of ¥ 300,000 ($2,500). Though this might seem to be too less in terms of the value of a life, it is, nevertheless, a significant change that could serve as a good deterrent in the future.
Cyber Abuse and Online Harassment in India and the Need to Follow Japan
The most accepted version of what constitutes cyber bullying is: ‘an aggressive, intentional act or behaviour that is carried out by a group or an individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and overtime against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself” — Smith, P. K., del Barrio, C., & Tokunaga, R. S. (2013).
This includes all forms of cyber stalking behaviour such as the following:
Online identity stealing with intent to harass (social media profiles are very susceptible to this)
Illegal tracing of a person’s location with intent to harass
Sending threatening, obscene, and shaming messages through emails and messages, and/or on posts
Posting of insulting comments or remarks with intent to bully and harass
Uploading obscene pictures/videos of victims
According to a report by Comparitech, India topped the list of countries with the highest percentage of parents who reported that their children have been victim to some form of cyberbullying. This 2018 report had India at 37% followed by Brazil and the United States at 29% and 26% respectively. And this is only the percentage of parents who are in the know of their children being abused. The actual cases of cyber bullying could be much higher if you include the ones not reported to parents.
The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”), unfortunately, does not recognize bullying, and by extension of that, cyber bullying as a crime or an act that is punishable. There are, however, other laws that can be used to apply in cases of cyber bullying such as IPC 354A and 354D, and Section 67 of the IT Act, and Section 507 IPC and Section 66E of IT Act.
However, these laws are ambiguous, and their applications are either non-existent or very less in numbers in a case-to-case scenario. For want of a direct law on cyber bullying, as in the recent case of the Japanese government’s legislation which clearly states that online insults are a crime punishable by law. Given the police procedures followed by the due judicial processes, online bullies in India can easily get away exploiting the loopholes in the current laws and by manipulating the system.
This is why India needs to follow Japan in enacting a direct and stringent law that can tackle this menace more effectively. Agreed that there could be confusion about the manipulation of this law, especially in the political arena, but we can always study and revisit this later by making the necessary amendments to it. The cost of a life cannot be undervalued, and now is the time to bring about a cyber law that values a bullied person’s life. The need for such a law is more urgent in India if we are to bring down India from the top of the infamous list.
Good cyber security companies can protect individuals and organizations from all sorts of cybercrimes, including cyber stalking and online bullying, but stricter laws can act as deterrents to such crimes at the planning stage itself.
About the Author
Khushhal Kaushik is a highly renowned cybersecurity expert and Founder & CEO of Lisianthus tech. He is one of the most prominent and Indian cybersecurity experts to be Featured by UNESCO for his exceptional cyber security expertise in 2018. In Feb 2021, UNESCO even featured a research paper written by Khushhal that has motivated countless organizations worldwide to take appropriate measures regarding cyber security concerns.