So many of us open social media with some amount of dread. Tired of being on the receiving end of abuse, sexual harassment, stalking, trolling and many other forms of cybercrime. And all this while we’ve been told to “just ignore it”. But we’ve had enough.

To discuss the burning question—Can you really protect yourself from online abuse? We recently had an Open Talk by No Rape India, hosted by Lawyers Club India in collaboration with MissMalini‘s campaign #IgnoreNoMoreOnline. The panel consisted of Boss Lady Malini Agarwal, Actor Shveta Salve, Actor Teena Singh, Cyber Law Expert Dr. Pavan Duggal, Advocate Shreya Singhal and Vikram Chandra, Founder of Editorji Technologies. Read on to know some things that were discussed in this webinar.

**No Rape India is an organisation wherein volunteers work pro bono with a single goal of preventing rape and sexual violence. Open Talk is a platform that enables people to speak up and have conversations that need to be had.

1. What is online abuse?

Teena says,

Every girl gets attacked in her DMs irrespective of whether she is in the public space or not. It’s very common to receive abusive comments on the clothes you’re wearing, being told what to wear or what not to wear, etc.

Malini says,

The kind of abuse women are getting is from a place of male dominance, and that’s a scary space for it to come from. It’s not about who you are, how old you are, whether you’re rich, etc. Every woman faces it.

2. Why is discussing this topic the need of the hour?

Malini says,

We’ve always been told that if we ignore abusers, they will go away. It’s clear that’s not the case. We’re online more than ever before. We’ve forgotten that virtual reality is another version of the real world. We’ve chosen to live here and we’ll be here for a long time. We shouldn’t replicate the same mistakes we made in real life where we told the women in our life to ‘ignore it and let it go’. We have to stop telling ourselves to ‘let it go’.

3. How can one reduce exposure to abuse online?

Shveta says,

On Instagram, go to ‘Settings’, go all the way down to ‘Privacy’. It shows ‘Comments’. There’s a filter called ‘Hide offensive comments’. You can use this to filter out hateful comments. You can also use a manual filter by putting in certain keywords that usually show up. Add these keywords, and always speak up against the perpetrators!

4. How can I report online abuse?

Shreya says,

Write to and fill in a complaint online. Anyone can take this recourse from their home. Even if you take a screenshot of your complaint and send it to the perpetrator, it scares them into behaving. Internet education needs to be coupled with sex education. The fact that the virtual world is an extension of your real life, and that you have to be respectful online.

Shreya says,

The Internet has given people the freedom of speech, but not freedom of abuse. Each social media platform has a feature to report abusers. I think people should use this.

Name and shame the police, if they fail to take action. No one likes bad PR, especially the police. Put them on the back foot and make them take action and listen to your complaint. A lot of reform is needed to sensitise the police towards this issue.

6. Does reporting abusers really work?

Shreya says,

The legal provisions available for cybercrime are the Information Technology Act, wherein Section 66 deals with ‘computer-related offences’, and Section 66E deals with ‘violation of privacy’.

Pavan says,

Law enforcement hasn’t changed a lot since the 2000s. They’re very uncomfortable with dealing with cyber law. Getting a conviction becomes a great challenge, and far more needs to be done in this regard. The ground reality is that there’s a  lack of a user-friendly approach.

7. Why is it important to speak up if you face online abuse?

Malini says,

It’s really empowering to see the number of women speaking up for themselves. Any big change comes from people wanting it and saying ‘Enough is enough’. Sure, the law’s tough and it may not do much, and the process is long. But, it’s important to know what can happen if we go down the legal route.

Teena says,

This one person had the audacity to send me creepy messages from his real account. Within 2-3 hours of me having sent the screenshots to @shubhamcybercop on Instagram, he put me on a call with the boy’s parents. They kept on apologising for their teenage son’s behaviour. Shubham has always taken instant action against these men.

Malini says,

We should have this conversation together. We should have it in the public eye. The system is not perfect and the only way we can bring about change is by joining forces. We can use technology to create a change. We at MissMalini want to take it upon ourselves to build a helpline to help with this. Do something, speak up, tell your story.

8. Key Takeaways

Says Pavan,

Being quiet is an invitation to disaster. So, speak up. Report to the law enforcement agency and the service provider. Don’t be afraid of backlash or harassment. Report electronically if you don’t want to go to the police. Alternatively, report to the Cybercrime Cell or the State Police website. They allow for placing online FIRs. The more we report the better it will be.

Also, while reporting, it’s a good idea to capture electronic evidence. It’s usually transient and can be deleted later, so it’s best if you take a screenshot. Save the URL or HTML page on your own device. In case it’s a video, please save it on your mobile phone. Get everybody in your circle to report the perpetrator. The more people who report the same abuse/ abuser, it creates pressure on the service provider to take action.

Check out the video below to know all that was discussed in the webinar!

Do you have a question for any of us, about cybercrime, the law, what can be done, what the consequences are? Drop them below and we’ll be sure to find out.

We often have such conversations on Malini’s Girl Tribe on Facebook. Click here to join the group!