If 2014 was the year that finally coaxed the world to take note of online harassment as a serious issue, the coming year will put the onus on governments, and companies like Twitter, Facebook, Google to play a larger role in tackling online abuse.
Nearly 27% of female internet users have been sexually harassed online, according to an October report by US-based think tank PEW research.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that online harassment — sexual or otherwise — is no less alarming in India.
For instance, cartoonist Kanika Mishra, who works under the pen name of Kanika Kahen, was a victim of online harassment when she drew cartoons criticising god man Asaram Bapu over his remarks on rape and women during the Delhi gang rape trial. Besides being attacked with sexist abuses, she received death threats on her page and her email account was hacked. “The supporters of Asaram threatened that I will meet the same end as the Delhi gang rape victim,” narrates Kan ..
“I was so scared that I did not leave my house for days because I feared that I might be attacked.” When she approached the local cyber crime police, they advised her to “stop posting till the situation came under control”. “The cyber crime police were definitely helpful, but they still haven’t made any arrests in the case” she says. Facebook has still not removed a fake profile of Kanika, created and used by imposters to defame her.
Social media companies are coming under pressure to respond better to such instances.
Such companies suspend accounts that violate intellectual property because their money is on the line, journalist Jessica Valenti alleged in an article in The Guardian. However, the same zeal of using content filters is not used when it comes to abusive or threatening accounts, she added.
“The least social media platforms can do to tackle online abuse is by making it easy for women to report such abuse, and by acting on such on such reports promptly,” says Anja Kovacs, a researcher with Internet Democracy Project
“At the moment, even in cases where the intervention of law enforcement is valid, a case is not always taken forward, often because social media platforms delayed in providing crucial information. This should urgently be changed,” Kovacs explains.
Facebook has a system where users can take down posts or pages if they are found to be “offensive”. It took some serious negotiations .. by women’s activists with Facebook to take down rape videos that were floating around the site under the category of “controversial humour.”
Twitter, which has come under severe criticism for its approach towards abusive accounts, has been slowly changing norms. This year, besides adding an option to report abuse on its site, the micro blogging site announced that it has teamed up with the organisation Women, Action and the Media (WAM) which will collect data of online harassment on social media platforms. Twitter has not made it clear what it will do once it receives these harassment data.
For social media firms, keeping online harassment in check, while still respecting freedom of speech, will be one of the biggest challenges in 2015.