A new frontier
Each one of us has a collective responsibility to create a digital ecosystem that ensures the safety, security and dignity of women in society
As the world embraces a digital life where we are connected 24X7, the internet has become our second life and mobile phones an extension of our personalities. For all practical purposes, mobile apps have blurred the lines between what is personal, social and professional. But as much as 'digital' is making our lives easy, we are also being exposed to the dark side of this 'virtual life'. When it comes to cyber harm, it is hard to distinguish what age or gender is at a greater risk. But in recent times there has been a spate of incidents targeting women with their safety being compromised.
There was the recent case of a US-based 26-year-old physiotherapist, whose cloud account was hacked and private videos stolen by a blackmailer. And a 17-year-old girl from Udaipur whose photos, taken from her social media account, were morphed before being circulated on the internet. There are many such instances. Some get reported and action is taken, but, unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg and the real numbers far outnumber those making the headlines. India, with its younger population hooked on to social media, gives Facebook its second-highest number of users after the US. The problem too then becomes as big and might be far more serious than is known.
Due to lack of awareness, cybercrime victims, especially women, do not come out in the open and register a complaint, and even if they do, they are not taken seriously. For instance, the Udaipur girl was told by police to delete her social media accounts and avoid posting any photos of herself in order to stay safe. The reaction seems to be normal but also points to the insensitive approach of not considering morphing someone's photographs and distributing them as a serious offence and to the lack of understanding about handling such cases of online abuse.
Recent data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that every sixth cybercrime in India is committed through social media. Further, the crimes on social media have an additional fallout, i.e., malicious tags, cruel comments and unwanted pictures. Once uploaded, they can never be completely erased from the web and, therefore, run the danger of being resurrected any time.
Ignorance, the root cause
With nearly 14 per cent of our population now on social media and this number only likely to rise in the near future, the need to create awareness has become more important than ever. It is more so for women, as they are the most vulnerable group, only after children, to fall prey to these crimes. The best way to be safe on social media is to have a basic understanding of it.
People often forget that the virtual world is not so virtual. Activities performed on social platforms could have real consequences in the real world. However, personal information being put online can be secured. There are security settings available on all social networking websites but the majority of the users are unaware of such features and hence become a victim of cybercrime. For example, on Facebook, everything we share is under our control. We can choose what, when, how and with whom we want to share our posts. It is completely up to us if we want to be friends with someone on Facebook or not, or if we want to follow someone on Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter.
Being safe online
A few important steps that women should follow to ensure their safety while enjoying an active social life online:
Say no to strangers: It is very important to know the person personally before knowing him/her virtually. If you don't say yes to strangers in real life why allow them access to your social profiles.
Be very careful with your passwords: Do not share your passwords with your friends, family members, etc. The risk of personal data going out is even higher if you have a common password, which, in turn, is shared with 'near and dear ones'. Keep different passwords for different accounts and, you could choose between not storing them online or subscribing to a password manager or a digital vault.
Customise your personal settings carefully: Turn off your location services in the settings in all the devices you use and check for the same under the privacy settings on all social media accounts as well. Potential abusers may identify patterns from your posts and attack you based on the same.
Think before you share: You should be extremely careful about what you post on social media as this may lead to people forming opinions about you and could take an ugly turn.
Don't follow trends blindly, be smart with them: Don't hashtag anything and everything you post on social media as it makes you visible on the internet. Therefore, think before you hashtag!
Protect your computer: Install anti-virus software to safeguard your devices. Also, ensure that your browser, operating system and software are up to date.
Remember to log off when you're done: Last but not the least, try not to be online 24x7.
But how do we deal with a case that has already happened?
The physiotherapist in the US did not respond to the emails of her blackmailer. And though she too was advised by some to do what he asked her to, she did not cow down to cyber-bullying and instead took the brave step of posting about the incident on Facebook, seeking help from people to take down the perverted hacker. Her post received over 10,000 shares, lauding her for her courage.
Each one of us has a collective responsibility to create an ecosystem that ensures the safety, security and dignity of women in society. At Telenor, we consciously promote diversity and through online and offline training campaigns make them aware of how to be safe while using social media platforms. Just remember, there is always help around the corner. As much as there are abusers online, there are people willing to help you. Only your presence of mind could help you be safe on social media than anything else.
The writer is a forensic expert (Executive Director – Tatha Forensic Wing Federation). Views expressed are personal