Cyberbullying: Laws and Policies in India

Cyberbullying becomes a possibility once our children log into the digital world. Read on to know what is cyberbullying, how to prevent cyberbullying and all about cyberbullying laws.

By Team ParentCircle  • 11 min read

Cyberbullying: Laws and Policies in India

Bullying, nowadays, is no longer restricted to school and college campuses, playgrounds and parks. Riding piggyback on digital revolution, it has taken the form of cyberbullying and follows us wherever we go. Both children and adults can be victims of cyberbullying. It can happen at any time and place, and can be perpetrated through email, text messages, videos and images, and social media. Even the safe confines of our home offer no protection from cyberbullying.

The perpetrators of cyberbullying can be classmates, online friends or strangers. The 2016 Norton Cybersecurity Insights Report states that, globally, 48% of parents feel that there is a higher likelihood of their children being bullied online than elsewhere.

What is the meaning of cyberbullying?

The US National Crime Prevention Council defines cyber-bullying as “the process of using the Internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.”

In simple terms, harassment of an individual using the Internet, cell phone or other digital devices can be termed cyberbullying. It involves sending offensive text messages, posting sensitive information or hateful comments about the victim, video shaming and so on.

According to law, cyberbullying has three major components:

  1. Use of harsh words
  2. Intention to embarrass, harass and insult the victim
  3. Convey the above via information and communication technology and/or digital communication technology

The following are the most common sources of cyberbullying:

  1. Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter
  2. Instant messaging services such as Whatsapp
  3. SMS
  4. Email

Types of cyberbullying

With time, cyberbullying has evolved to take many forms. Here are some common types of cyberbullying:

  • Flaming: Using hurtful language in emails, text messages or chat rooms against an individual
  • Harassment: Sending hurtful, hateful and/or threatening messages
  • Cyberstalking: Following an individual online and sending emails or messages to scare, harm or intimidate him
  • Exclusion: Deliberately excluding an individual from a group and posting malicious comments/messages about her
  • Impersonation/masquerading: Using a fake identity to damage an individual's reputation, and publicly sharing real or false information about him
  • Trolling: Intentionally hurting an individual by posting insulting or inflammatory comments
  • Fraping: Using an individual's social networking accounts to post inappropriate content to ruin her reputation.

Cyberbullying in India

India, unfortunately, is emerging as the global capital of cyberbullying. Here are a few studies that raise concerns about this menace.

  • A survey conducted by Microsoft Corporation in 2012, across 25 countries ranked India third in the number of online bullying cases reported.
  • According to the 2014 study conducted by the Internet security company, McAfee, “Half of the youth in India have had some experience with cyberbullying.”

Some incidents of cyberbullying in India

Here are a few cyberbullying incidents that happened in India recently:

  • A student in Kerala was severely trolled for selling fish to raise money to meet her educational expenses and feed her family.
  • A school student in Delhi was stalked and invited to go on a date by someone who became her online friend just a month ago.
  • A law student from Kerala was harassed for posting a poem about taboos attached to menstruation.

Effects of cyberbullying

Exposure to cyberbullying can have many adverse effects on a child. Some of them are:

  • Diminishing self-esteem.
  • Tendency to withdraw from those around and spend time alone.
  • Reluctance to allow parents or family members to use their mobile phone or computers.
  • Sudden loss of weight or changes in appearance.
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns.
  • Feeling unsafe, exposed and humiliated.
  • Coming up with excuses to stay away from school.
  • Injury marks on the skin indicating self-harm; trying to hide the injuries by wearing clothes that cover the full body.
  • Change in personality, with increased bouts of anger, depression and crying spells.
  • Decline in performance in academics, sports and extra-curricular activities.

How to prevent cyberbullying

The best way to prevent cyberbullying is to sensitise children about its negative effect. Schools should conduct workshops on cyberbullying because most children nowadays have social media accounts on platforms like Whatsapp or Facebook.

Parents need to be made aware as well about how and why to not allow children to use electronic communication devices as 'toys'. They should also talk to their children more, monitor their online activity, teach them not to reveal their personal details to strangers, explain the dangerous effects of cyberbullying, and spot any abnormal changes in their behavior or attitude.

Also read: 7-ways-to-protect-your-child-from-cyberbullying

Reporting cyberbullying in India

If it is clear, or parents suspect, that a child is being cyberbullied, the matter should be reported to the concerned authorities. Here’s what parents should do:

  • Identify and block the bully's phone number to prevent him/her from sending messages.
  • Save all the chats, posts, and emails sent by the bully, to be used as evidence.
  • Report the bully's phone number/account details to the service providers – all social networking platforms have this facility.
  • If the bullying still continues, register a complaint at the cybercrime cell of the local police.

Anti-cyberbullying laws in India

Although there are no specific laws to regulate cyberbullying in India, we do have Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. This Act prescribes the punishment for sending annoying, offensive and insulting communication through digital and information communication technology.

Given below are some other laws that can be used to tackle cyberbullying:

  • Publishing or transmitting obscene material — Sec. 67
  • Publishing or transmitting sexually explicit material in electronic form — Sec. 67A
  • Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman — Sec. 509
  • Sending defamatory messages by e-mail — Sec. 499 IPC
  • Printing, selling, advertising grossly indecent or scurrilous matter or matter intended for blackmail — Sec. 292A
  • Stalking and contacting, or attempting to contact a woman — Sec. 354D
  • Making sexually colored remarks, guilty of the offence of sexual harassment — Sec 354 A
  • Violation of privacy — Sec. 66E
  • Criminal intimidation by anonymous communication — Sec. 507

Although there are laws to penalise bullying, only a few victims and their families report instances of cyberbullying. A majority prefer to stay silent and hope that things will improve on their own.

To bring about a change in the mindset, there are some key issues that policymakers should consider. For example, the policymakers should adopt child-friendly policies which explain why cyberbullying is dangerous to children as well as to society. I feel broad discussions on these should be done in consultation with experts on cybercrime, lawyers, academics, child-rights activists and educationists.

Also, it is important to define the academic or legal definition of bullying. In his book ‘Cyber Bullying: Profile and Policy Guidelines’, eminent criminologist Dr K Jaishankar defines cyberbullying as “abuse/ harassment by teasing or insulting the victims’ body shape, intellect, family background, dress sense, mother tongue, place of origin, attitude, race, caste, or class using modern telecommunication networks such as mobile phones and Internet.”

Practices followed in other countries in dealing with cyberbullying

It would be wrong to say that cyberbullying is rampant only in India. Even countries with stringent laws and regulations like the USA, Canada and UK are struggling to control cyberbullying. However, unlike in India, people in these countries consider it important to tackle cyberbullying, especially when the victims are school-going children. Schools have rules to deal with cyberbullying. Not only school principals and class teachers, but also counsellors, and in certain cases, legal authorities get involved to deal with cyberbullying.

There is a debate going on about whether parents can be held liable for their children's misuse of communication devices. This is an important point to consider, even in the Indian context.

To sum up, parents need to be aware that cyberbullying is not restricted to children of a certain age group. Parents should work in tandem with their children and ensure that they are well-informed. This will help children cope with cyberbullying whenever they experience it.

About the author:

Written by Team ParentCircle on 11 July 2017; updated on 30 October 2019

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