In India, as elsewhere in the world, online harassment of women and marginalized genders and sexualities is rampant, in contrast to Internet’s initial premise of equal opportunity and neutrality. What we have today is a flawed internet that reflects the offline world we live in, where women and marginalized communities are abused, harassed, threatened, stalked and violated on a daily basis. This research report aims to analyse the unique threats that women and marginalized sections in India face online and how Indian laws affect these problems.
The report uses both qualitative and quantitative research, including analysis of media reports involving online harassment of high profile women; a survey of 500 social media users; and interviews with ten of the respondents. The majority of survey respondents were women under 35, living in major cities, and educated to college level or above.
- Online abuse is a serious issue in India, affecting more than half of survey respondents, yet women and other targets lack support and understanding to respond effectively.
- Thirty-six percent of respondents who had experienced harassment online took no action at all. Twenty-eight percent reported that they had intentionally reduced their online presence after suffering online abuse.
- Some respondents found it hard to think of online harassment on par with violence, even though 30 percent of those who had experienced it found it “extremely upsetting” and 15 percent reported that it lead to mental health issues like depression, stress, and insomnia.
- Though avid users of social media, respondents lose trust in popular platforms because of harassment against them or someone they know. Over half want stricter community standards for content, and the ability to escalate reports of abuse.
- Mechanisms to report abuse on social media platforms fall short. Victims are more likely to block abuse than to report it, yet blocking is ineffective against organized, sustained campaigns using multiple accounts.
- Assailants readily exploit mechanisms to report abuse, alleging their victims have violated platform guidelines to disable their accounts.
- Thirty percent of survey respondents said they were not aware of laws to protect them from online harassment.
- Only a third of respondents had reported harassment to law enforcement; among them, 38 percent characterized the response as “not at all helpful.”
This year, based on our research report, we are running a campaign against online abuse and harassment that women face especially on social media websites. Our campaign #DigitalHifazat – name courtesy Raju Tai – campaigns for a secure and safe internet for all.
How can you participate?
As we demand for #DigitalHifazat, we ask you, how do you imagine your internet, what do you want to see in your idea of a safe and secure internet?
- Share your story with us – it can be a story, video, image, artwork, comic, audio podcast, memes, etc.
- Spread the word – share this campaign call with your friends on social and tag us with #DigitalHifazat
- Send us your reccommendations – what do you think we can do to make the web more secure for women and marginalized groups? Tell us!
This research is part of Freedom House‘s Hyperlinkers project, which seeks to amplify the voices of marginalized communities in global digital rights discussions. Freedom House is an independent, non-partisan watchdog organisation dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world.
A part of this research has also been published in the Freedom on the Net 2016 India report by Freedom House.