A boy of 17, committed suicide after accusations were leveled against him in social media by a girl. We decided to keep the name undisclosed. The family of the deceased commented on social media, “Our brother is not a rapist. He didn’t deserve to die”.

After the sensational expose of ‘Bois Locker Room’ chats, a boy of class 12 committed suicide. Later, however, the police revealed that one of the chats was of a girl posing as a boy to test her friend’s character and strength. It was not related to any chat rooms rather was a Snapchat conversation. None of them were booked since they did not have malicious intent. Girl’s locker room chat-boxes too surfaced later on. Vile, lewd and derogatory are the best words to explain them both.

In the subsequent days, several other accusations were charged against others in the form of screenshots of private conversations, videos, and google links.

Screenshot of a conversation

Legal Ramification

Theory of law suggests “anyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty and the burden of responsibility lies on the accuser”.

This is where the problem starts

Once an allegation is made, he/she is presumed to be GUILTY until proved innocent. In most cases, the accuser has left us with no evidence as a result of which the accused has had to submit evidence in the public domain to prove his innocence. The entire process is flawed to its core.

The legal problems extend further. Leaks of private messages /photos/videos are a serious breach of Right To Privacy protected under Article 21 of the Constitution which is a fundamental right. Leaks are admissible evidence in court but only after they have passed through layers of scrutiny. In most cases, they are deemed inconclusive.

Even in 2018, the Delhi High Court said that the social media did a huge disservice by revealing the name of the eight-year-old girl who was raped and killed in Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir.

Furthermore,  severe charges can be confronted by the owner of such posts with sections 499 (defamation),  503 (criminal intimidation),  294 (obscenity and lewd comments), and 66 of IT Act ( intrusion of privacy and offensive messages).

Inferences

On scrutinizing the timeline of events, a lot of inferences can be made.

Over the last few weeks there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of these cases, most of these allegations have little or no verifiable proof. Oddly enough, first, the exposes were made but later the exposer became the exposed and the cycle continued.

Since most of the accused are men, a men’s rights activist, and a member of Abhijan, Souvik Hazra told me, “Proper investigation must be done irrespective of gender. The administration must make sure there is no moral policing. I don’t support crimes but I am against moral policing of men after they are accused”.

Social Media Shaming/Online Lynching

But on hindsight, all of these parallel cases are tangible to each other at some point and have a common element to all of them-

SOCIAL MEDIA SHAMING. What does it lead to?

A term we coined for the first time as ONLINE LYNCHING.

About it, is this the sole responsibility of the owner of the post or do the viewers share some responsibility too?

Indeed the initiation is with the post and its owner but often posts are blown out of proportions and receive unprecedented backlash. Posting any allegation without “sufficient” evidence is as wrong as an instigatory caption that accompanies it.

As a consequence of this, the accused no more receives informed criticism but instead hate comments and speeches, to the extent of death threats. The line of difference between informed criticism and hate comments is subtle and crossed often. The moment protest is in the form of abuses, character defamation, and unworthy and cringe tags (rapist, sexual offender), it is pure HATE.

The entire process of ONLINE LYNCHING is in line with the typical mob lynching mentality/culture ( where families and individuals are physically lynched without sufficient information and only hearsays/rumors).

An insight into lynching tells me that it perhaps started in the US in the 19th century and committed based on racial purity. Racial purity is a Darwinian concept ( Charles Darwin) wherein a community is considered to be superior to others and only the fittest can survive. Reminds me of the “Dimapur lynching” case (Nagaland) where over rape allegations the mob lynched the accused, only later for the government to clarify it was not raped at all.

Just because the majority of the population aligns with an idea, doesn’t make it right.

This is largely due to lack of education and awareness where the so-called “social media pundits” are very ill-formed, emotional, and deprived of senses. Arguments presented, therefore, are only irrational.

Most are even of the opinion that hate should be met with hate. Violence begets violence and this vicious circle is unending.

The logical question, however, is as to why post incidents online when there is an elaborate law of the land to handle it? Who is the mob to give a verdict, call an accused guilty and decide on the “sufficiency” of evidence?

Indeed social media gives victims a platform to voice their opinions and make their stories known if the judiciary is lagging. But it must be used judiciously and honestly.

In most of these cases, families have been involved since it incorporates a lot of psychological trauma.

Psychological Effects

To talk about the psychological effects of it, I decided to interview a Kolkata based Consultant Clinical Psychologist.

Q-  Why do people resort to online shaming, and does it work?

A-  Firstly, it is easy and it is something you can do from the comfort of your home.

Secondly, it has a probability of spreading like wildfire, especially an issue of social justice. Thirdly, for attention, to make the person feel validated, seek popularity, and be heard. Shaming as an act of hatred here gets a larger audience hence amplifying the hurt.

Q- Why is it traumatizing both for the accused and the accuser?

A-  The problem of public shaming is that both sides are rarely heard. It involves powerlessness, helplessness, loss of self-esteem of the accused. It may trigger the need to remove self from any crisis. Unclear cyber-laws hardly provide protection or ensure social justice. It is based on mass appeal and social psyche at the cross-section of time.

Q- Why do the audience make a post viral?

A-  Social media is a powerful platform for easy activism with no struggle through movement involved. Any topic audience believes is not getting justice, is picked up and given impulsive judgments, spread with hate messages. It gives a sense of the power of having a say or be perpetrators of justice to the message.

Q-  Does one revelation allow others to take place? It is a common notion.

A- As in the #MeToo movement, the anonymity, authority, and attention received by such a post may result in people identifying with the victim and getting solidarity and a high from the movement to express themselves. Kind of a common shared safe space.

Q-  Lastly, how should one react when subjected to online shaming?

A-  For powerless people, social media can be the last resort for justice or support. The best thing would be to authenticate information before clicking the like/share button. Pointers would be the credibility of the source,  fact-checking, seeing if it is sensational or anxiety-provoking, or has the capacity to generate hatred. Approach the topic legally because a one-sided voice may not be enough to pass the verdict legally. So provide some space for the other opinion before a verdict.

Conclusion

Schools need to strictly build programs on social education, positive usage of social media, and most importantly social platforms have to be forced to adopt strict security walls to stop provocative, abusive contents, ” conveyed one of the family friends.

Social media trials and public shaming is contempt-based and not justice-based.

Truth be told, the words “sexual assault” “harassment” “abuse” have been used rather loosely over the Internet. But in the absence of any regulation, it is allowed to continue.

So without intention, have you ever been a part of this mob? Think twice.

“Even the wrong train sometimes leads you in the right direction” Lunchbox(movie) taught us. So if I, an unlikely source,  can bring you to consciousness and render you mindful before you comment, this article is nothing but a success.

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