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Enhancing Not Enslaving Lives

Enhancing Not Enslaving Lives

“We bring you closer to the people and things you love”.

Isn’t Instagram’s mission statement impressive?

Viewed as a cute, harmless social media application, where one can post and share pictures with the world, Instagram is undoubtedly one of the most influential connect that has dramatically changed the lives of many, especially teenagers. Acquired by the Facebook for nearly $1 billion in 2012, Instagram’s top three users are the United States (120 million) India (88 million) and Brazil (82 million).

Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom, who created or rather invented Instagram ten years ago, initially for iPhones and later for Android phones, to share mobile photography, would have never even dreamt that it would be misused by some perverted minds like what happened in Delhi recently.

Yes, the horrendous all-boys Instagram chat group christened “Bois Locker Room”, created with several members, mostly teenage boys from Delhi, mainly shared objectionable posts about minor girls. The said chat group, which has since been deactivated after the Delhi Police busted the case on 4 May, is shameful and ought to serve as a wake-up call to the society at large to prevent recurrence of such incidents.

The case came out in the open on 2 May after a student was "accidentally" added to the chat group and he witnessed a "morphed" picture of his friend. So far names of four private schools from South Delhi and one from Noida have been linked to the group. What is disconcerting is that the photographs of the girls were taken without their consent and shared amongst the groups. Obnoxious statements like “I will rape her easily” etc., including threats to leak nude photos of girls who had busted them went viral and as news reports indicate, there was a massive outrage on the social media. The Instagram chat group had not only school students but around 10 odd college students as well.

It all happened so fast - while the Delhi Commission for Women served a notice to Instagram, the Delhi Police apprehended a 15-year-old said to be the administrator of the chat group and filed an FIR under IPC Sections 465 (forgery), 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record), 469 (forgery for purpose of harming reputation), 509 (word, gesture or  act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and Sections 67 (publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) and 67A (publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act in electronic form) of the IT Act. Some of these offences are punishable with imprisonment raging between three to five years and fines to the extent of Rs 5 to Rs 10 lakh.

With the group chat incident raising issues like privacy, safety and well-being of women including the need for sensitisation and counselling of juveniles, three Delhi-based advocates have moved the Supreme Court to intervene and take up the matter on the judicial side considering there might be jurisdictional challenges in pursuing the inquiry and investigation into the offence.

Similar incidents involving minors discussing rape/gang rape of classmates have been reported on other digital platforms across cities. Last December, eight boys aged 13-14 years of a reputed Mumbai school were suspended for displaying graphic sexual and violent content including explicit comments on female classmates on WhatsApp. Reportedly the chat transcription running over almost a hundred pages included words like “rape” and “gangbang”. The comments were observed by a girl’s parent who declined to go to school saying she was too scared.

Now, why all this fuss? From a college student’s perspective, it can be argued can’t boys not have some fun as childhood only comes once and they aren’t ever going to get these times back. Fair enough. If many unsupervised teens are left to their own devices by some busy parents, why just blame the boys? After all money can’t buy everything!

When a teenager spends too much time scrolling through social media, it can result in symptoms of anxiety, depression and a host of other issues like hating the opposite sex. It is because he cannot decide between right and wrong. Research has concluded that the unconscious hatred that boys form early in life towards girls or women is often as a result of a trauma involving a female figure they trusted. As such, an abuse or negligent mother or sister can plant a seed deep down in their brain’s subcortical matter. Even as the first signs of misogyny are barely noticeable, their repeated exposure to neglect and abuse can compound the situation. As a parent, one should not remain silent when a teen makes a sexually degrading comment. They should not be allowed to think that it is their right to treat women as sex objects. Instilling the value of respecting girls from a young age can go a long way to change the abominable, unhealthy and sexist mindset.  As teenagers place a tremendous amount of trust in the people to whom they confide their private thoughts and feelings, it is imperative that beyond just disciplining, parents quickly must provide their children the necessary guidance and support. In some teens, changing their behaviour may require repeated interventions, so patience pays.

Well, many youngsters seem to draw their primary sense of identity from social media accounts. And Instagram, for too many young adults, is their sole, unilateral scorecard to know and feel how important they are.  Notably, the more followers and “likes” they get, the better they feel about themselves. When teens use social media to connect and create friendships with others, they also may confront cyberbullying, trolls, toxic comparisons etc . Social media undoubtedly offers huge benefits for the community by providing access and connection to people, services, information and opportunities that would previously not have been possible. Unfortunately, what many youngsters fail to appreciate is that social media occasionally may be a gateway to pornography as well.  Importantly, when teens connect with thousands of friends through friends of friends on social media, as there is no privacy, photos can be downloaded and used for other illegal purposes.

It needs to be appreciated that the World Wide Web is listening every time we use it. Beware, one’s social media comments or email records, as part of online history can potentially be seen by other people similar to cookies left in the system when commercial websites are visited to track one’s buying habits. Every Tweet, retweets leave a record. Remember, when judiciously used, the social media can “enhance our lives”.  

(Published on 11th May 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 20)