Rajat Sharma

Why IT Act needs to be changed?


Today I want to talk about an issue which most of us face in our daily life. Millions of Indians are active on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, and almost every day one finds trolls abusing, defaming and threatening others, using fake information, images and videos. Sometimes such acts cause social tension and even riots.

The problem lies in tracing the originators of such lies, abuses, innuendoes and fake information, because most of their profiles are fake. Pictures of men and women are posted on such fake profiles, girls are blackmailed after online chats, and for trolls using morphed images, abusing, threatening and defaming others is an easy job.

The Centre is seriously thinking of bringing stringent provisions in Information Technology Act against those who indulge in such nefarious activities. Such instigators, blackmailers and abusers can be instantly identified and punished. Making fake profiles or fake accounts on social media will be considered an offence. Since common people, public figures and celebrities face abuses, threats and defamatory innuendoes on social media, the law has to be made stringent.

The latest example is that of a troll who had threatened star cricketer Virat Kohli’s nine-month-old daughter after India lost the T20 match to Pakistan. The 23-year-old accused Ramnagesh Srinivas Akubathini, a resident of Sangareddy in Telangana, is a software engineer who had passed out of IIT Hyderabad. He was arrested by Mumbai Police with the help of Hyderabad Police. There was national outrage over his sickening threat against Kohli’s daughter. Ramnagesh was brought to Mumbai after arrest. He had a history of online trolling using multiple fake identities, but to his family and friends, he was an avid student planning higher studies abroad.

Till a month ago, he was working for a prominent food delivery app, based in Bengaluru at an annual pay package of Rs 24 lakhs. He later quit his job to prepare for a master’s degree in the US. His father works in an ordnance factory in Sangareddy in Medak district. Ramnagesh ranked 2367 in the IIT-JEE examination. He used to study hard and was a topper in Class 10 exam, but his family did not know about his online trolling activity. An avid cricket fan, he was depressed after India lost back-to-back matches against Pakistan and New Zealand.

After his late night tweet threatening Virat Kohli’s baby daughter, in which he had tagged both Virat Kohli and his actor wife Anushka Sharma, he deactivated his account the next morning after realizing he had made a big mistake. He deleted two more accounts. By then Virat Kohli’s manager had already complained to Mumbai Police Cyber Crime Cell and an FIR had been filed. Ramnagesh’s family claims he posted the tweet “accidentally”. His father said, he immediately deleted his post, but, by then, the tweet was circulating fast on Twitter.

The tweet screenshot went viral and was flagged to both Mumbai and Delhi Police. Ramnagesh immediately changed his Twitter handle @ramanheist and pretended to be a Pakistani user @criccrazygirl but his handle was tracked down by fact-check websites. Mumbai Police said, Ramnagesh is cooperating in the probe, he may not be a serial offender and he has now realized his mistake.

What happened to cricketer Virat Kohli is just one example out of lakhs of such cases that take place daily on social media. The problem is: there is no stringent IT law and our system is not fully equipped to deal with such cases. The present IT Act is 20 years old. It was framed in 2001 when Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram hardly existed in the daily life of an Indian.

With fast-paced technological advancement, cyber security and safety have to be given a strong edge. Under the proposed amendments, if any person posts a defamatory, objectionable or obscene comment against anybody, he can be traced and tracked, and he would not be given to hide under any fake identity. Location will be traced in real time or within a definite time frame. Online sexual harassment will be defined under the new IT Act and provisions will be made for punishing those who post morphed images and make intimidatory threats.

The Centre had to step in because giant social media companies failed to take action against such evildoers, who post obscene, hateful and derogatory comments and videos. A former employee and whistleblower of Facebook has revealed before a US Congressional committee how top bosses in her company ignored hate comments that were posted on the platform. It has been found that once a hateful comment or image is posted, Facebook seldom removes the comment or image, unless a complaint is made. It is in this backdrop that the Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar has said that there must be effective safeguards and security checks against hate crime, fake news, cyber bullying, child pornography and similar other crimes on social media. The new IT rules circulated to social media companies are a part of this series of proposed steps.

India is the world’s biggest market for social media platform users. In India, there are 34 crore Facebook users, 14 crore Instagram accounts, 2.25 crore Twitter accounts, and 1.5 crore users on Indian Koo app, leaving aside the users of WhatsApp. Indians use Twitter not only to express their opinions but also to air their grievances, because most of the government agencies and officials have Twitter handles. Business, politics, marriages, and even crimes take place using this social media space.

During this year’s Durga Puja festivities, a fake news about alleged desecration of Holy Quran was posted on Facebook in Bangladesh, and this resulted in angry Muslim mobs setting fire to Hindu temples, Puja pandals and homes. In India, a fake video of an old Muslim man’s beard being shaved forcibly was circulated resulting in communal tension. There were objectionable posts on Facebook during the farmers’ tractor march to Red Fort on Republic Day this year. Some weeks ago, in Assam, the video of a cameraman beating up a dead man in the presence of police caused outrage, but videos of people attacking a police party with weapons were withheld. Similar videos about communal tension in Tripura were also circulated, creating a law and order situation.

Information Technology Act needs to be updated at the earliest to prevent mischief mongers from creating tension. Some people use social media to settle personal scores. There are also people who want to divide society by creating communal tension. Politicians are using social media tools against their rivals daily. In the new provisions that are proposed to be incorporated, anybody who posts or circulates information, images and videos on social media will have to undertake the responsibility of proving that the information, image or video posted is true. Or else, face action.

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