Online Misogynist Bullying Emerging as a Silent Pandemic in Nepal

Deeksha Khatiwada

October 14, 2020

9 MIN READ

Online Misogynist Bullying Emerging as a Silent Pandemic in Nepal
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COVID-19 has restricted the mobility of the people which has taken a toll especially on women due to the misuse of social media.

This has spurred people for more use of social media as an impact of home confinement, and significantly increasing the use of virtual technology to run businesses remotely.

Nonetheless, the digital platform has been misused for online bullying targeted at young girls and women.

Many sociologists and researchers in today’s world point out that trolls are just an outer manifestation of a patriarchal structure in society by making fun of a woman’s past, a family situation designed to ruin her reputation.

Women who take a stand to speak for themselves are ridiculed by society shaming her with dirty terms of feminism.

Society automatically portrays such bold women as a double standard feminist. The offensive comments mainly in women’s pictures especially regarding gender-sensitive issues like on clothes, bodies and their skin color have increased during the pandemic.

Due to the weak law and even weaker enforcement, cybercriminals are not really taking the consequences of their actions seriously.

There have been unacceptable post-social media trends going viral for instance offensive pictures and derogatory comments of women not being able to go to the beauty parlor and memes of women in beards and mustaches.

Similarly, various ad-hominem derogatory comments to Nepalese actress Samragee, Puja Sharma, and Barsha Raut due to their personal opinion on different issues trying to violate their freedom of expression were also on the trend.

They were constantly harassed through social media by portraying them as worthless women pointing towards her character.

How the outspoken women are prone to online bullying can be seen in the response of the Bollywood Nepali actress Manisha Koirala who was constantly harassed online by the Indian media when her views leaned towards Nepal, on the Kalapani-Lipulekh border issue.

Outspoken women, celebrities and female journalists often become targets of mass trolling which has been a new form of the silent pandemic in Nepal.

Another form of misogyny that has taken a toll on women during this pandemic also is online bullying such as impersonation, hacking IDs, constant online harassment which in many cases threaten the privacy of women and increases the risk of being bullied in social media platform.

Most psychological reasons cite that people are using misogynistic posts to gain popularity, views, likes and followers in social media and trying to tarnish reputation due to personal relationship vendettas.

Ridiculing women with derogatory comments which have gone unnoticed in the eyes of law enforcement agencies since tracking these incidents largely relies on passive mechanisms like victim complaints – proactive tracking is almost impossible.

Statistics show that 5,574 cases have been filed at the cybercrime bureau since 2016, which has seen a drastic rise year on year and the majority of them are about online abuse faced by women which have been undoubtedly increased in this COVID-19 crisis (Kathmandu Post, September 01, 2020).

Nearly 70 % of the 353 cases filed at the cybercrime bureau in the last two months were online abuse directed towards women (TKP, September 01, 2020).

The statistics are steep and average out to almost five to six cyber crime cases from women victims every day and three to four such complaints are related to Facebook bullying (Kathmandu Metropolitan Police, Crime Division).

The data also points towards the fact that most reasons cited root towards the rejection of proposals, failed love affairs, ego stemmed out of rejection, conflicts in conjugal relationships which therefore contribute towards gender-based violence. Many fake accounts are created to defame and bully-victims.

Social anxiety (fear of being missing out) due to pandemic is also is putting pressure on adolescent boys to show their existence through social media mostly among friends by posting memes targeting women, portraying them as characterless or worthless which has immensely affected victims in social isolation.

Due to this problem, women are suffering more from mental issues like anxiety, depression and lack of self-esteem to express their interest, especially in social media due to fear of being judged.

According to The Rising Nepal dated 10th May 2020, in the lockdown period from March 24 to May 2, 2020, a total of 492 people committed suicide.

The rate of suicide is more among women than among men in our country and online bullying maybe one of the reasons.

Ironically, there is no law for online bullying which links this to privacy, defamation, sexual harassment, and criminal laws and has created confusion among the entire information technology laws.

A counter-argument is Freedom of expression. These laws are being juggled entirely. Only one proper law known as electronic transaction act 2063, is enacted for investigation and punishments regarding e-crimes.

Deep-rooted patriarchal hegemony comes into play protecting the perpetrators instead of doing the opposite.

Sadly, there are no proper provisions of online bullying within this act as well. Even though in new law like the Privacy Act 2075 BS, online bullying has not been considered as a major issue undermining the severity of such crimes.

For instance, the electronic transaction act of 2063 has not specifically mentioned online bullying as a computer offense nor has mentioned relevant penalties.

Though computer-related offenses have been listed in the act, online bullying’ has been a vague term in it. Thus if there is no specific penalty then a fine not exceeding only Rs 50,000 and imprisonment not exceeding six months is mentioned. 

Due to the weak law and even weaker enforcement, cybercriminals are not really taking the consequences of their actions seriously.

For instance, Kathmandu District Court only handles the e-crime cases because of the infeasibility and lack of proper facilities for looking into cyber violence, and in most cases, offenders are easily acquitted.

Law enforcement bodies are failing proper cyber legislation and technical cyber capabilities due to a lack of expertise in this field and advanced technology.

Moreover, cyber forensics is rarely used to aid investigations regarding cyberbullying. Similarly, there is no ratification of the extradition laws and international conventions on cybercrimes which make laws in this area weak and unnoticeable to the public.

If cross-border cyber-related violence like cyberbullying is happening there is neither institutional or policy-based control nor there are cyber forensic experts and separate investigation services.

Even though new laws like the recent IT bill are being formulated, they fail to address every issue of cybercrime which is unfolding at an unprecedented rate.

Although Nepal has a separate IT tribunal dedicated to online crime, the execution and handling are dismal. Similarly, the existing laws and provisions are ambiguous and lack enough penalties boosting the confidence of the perpetrators.

Thus, proper awareness, formation and implementation of strong laws need to be achieved to curb the effects of this silent pandemic.

Women who seek justice for being victims of online bullying are either shamed or ignored even inside the police station.

Deep-rooted patriarchal hegemony comes into play protecting the perpetrators instead of doing the opposite.

The general practice and mindset of labeling women as “attention seekers” or “characterless” remains of the biggest hurdles for the victims to come out.

And even if they manage to come out and report the case, it is usually brushed aside to junior officers ill-equipped to handle such issues.

Thus, women are still not being protected under expanded hate crime laws, especially in a country like ours.

Although Nepal has a separate IT tribunal dedicated to online crime, the execution and handling are dismal. Similarly, the existing laws and provisions are ambiguous and lack enough penalties boosting the confidence of the perpetrators.

It is high time that the government enacts strong laws and policies, awareness regarding online bullying especially among women and enforcement mechanisms to curb this silent pandemic and promote a healthy and respectful social environment for women to live dignified lives.

(Deeksha Khatiwada is a final year B.A.LL.B student studying at Nepal Law Campus)

Views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the stance of Khabarhub.

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