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I can be Charlie. I can be Mohammad Hussain. I can be Peter. I can be Maya. I can be Padmavati. I can be all of these.
Internet is a powerful tool to connect the world. Go back to 1980s and imagine yourself writing a letter to your uncle in Pondicherry to tell him how your exams went. Cut to 2016; the mode of communication is way faster than what we had imagined two centuries back. Internet has become an essential part of our lives. You are sipping your coffee, reclining on the chair and reading this article. Meanwhile Lakshmi in Kerala be will reading this to her mother sitting on the porch. A student in Gujarat must have accidently opened this website and now he’s reading this alone in the hostel room. We are all ‘together’.
Now if I ask you who am I, how could you tell?
This is why I called Internet “powerful”. Internet can provide me an ‘identity’, or it can make me ‘faceless’. Remember how writers use ‘pen names’ instead of their real names when they publish a book? Many bloggers do the same online.
Unfortunately and not-so-surprisingly, many stalkers do the same as well.
“You looked really pretty in that white dress yesterday.”
“Err.. thanks. I didn’t know you were also there in the movie hall.”
“No, idiot. I wasn’t. You were tagged in a photo by your friend on facebook.”
Rings a bell? Now what if the one talking about your dress is completely unknown to you?
In earlier times, the person stalking you used to follow you till home, hide behind the trees and see you talking to friends, and in some cases even place informants at your favourite places. With the advent of internet, stalking has become a desk job!
We’re on the web all the time. From our first date to family holiday destination to school friends reunion, every little information of ours is available on the web – knowingly or unknowingly. There is enough fodder for the stalker on your social media profile to feed on.
You may be really excited to share photo of your daughter online on the first day of her school, but little do you know that some paedophile might be keeping an eye on her online.
What are the different kinds of Stalkers?
1. The common obsessional cyber stalker – The one who is hopelessly in ‘love’ with the victim. Remember the movie “Darr”?
2. The delusional cyber stalker – The one with a mental illness. This stalker is in a delusion that victim loves him even if they haven’t met.
3. The vengeful cyber stalker – The one who wants to take revenge from the victim.
What can motivate a Cyber Stalker?
1. Sexual Harassment – This is no surprise. The internet reflects real life & consists of real people. Since internet makes it easier for someone to become anonymous, it is always easy to ‘win trust’ of the victim online.
2. Obsession for love – Online romance is particularly dangerous.
3. Revenge & Hate – Sometimes people get offended for minor things. A failed relationship, rude behaviour at office, or public humiliation can lead to cyber revenge.
4. Ego & Power Trips – These are harassers online that are showing off their ‘skills’ to themselves or their friends. Often the victim imagines the stalker to be someone powerful but in many cases the harasser may be a child who can’t really ‘pose a threat’ to the victim in real life. This again, owes to the fact that one can ‘anybody’ on the web.
Is Cyber Stalking prominent in India? Yes!
In 2009, a tiny but landmark judgement happened when Bombay High Court convicted a 35 year old man, Prabhu and sent him for three months in jail for sending obscene pictures and videos via email to a woman he met on a social networking site. This was the state’s first conviction in a cyber-stalking case. The woman turned down his proposal for marriage, which lead to Prabhu stalking her and sending her emails from a fake id.
This makes me draw your attention towards Cyber Identity Thefts. These are common around the world. Identity theft happens when someone ‘steals’ your identity. Usually the criminal is interested in your bank account details and impersonates you to rob you off your cash. However, there have been increasing number of cases of Identity Thefts on the web with the motives of sexual abuse.
In India’s first case of cyberstalking, Manish Kathuria was stalking Ms Ritu Kohli by illegally chatting on the Web site MIRC using her name. He used obscene and obnoxious language, and distributed her residence telephone number, inviting people to chat with her on the phone. As a result of which, Ritu kept getting obscene calls from everywhere, and people promptly talked dirty with her.
Impersonating anybody on the web is a cake walk.
So what should we do?
1. No one has the right to harass you – Online or Offline. Immediately file a written complaint in the Police-station.
2. Do not ‘public’ your private information. This may include your residential address, whereabouts of you and your family, your financial details etc. Your one wrong step and distance you from coming in the success stories of women entrepreneurs.
3. Lie, please! Hey, it’s okay to lie on the web. Online friends are meant to be just there – online. You can always lie about your favourite coffee shop to your facebook friend.
4. Stay away from Chat rooms. Hasn’t mama told you to not talk to strangers? It applies online as well. If you really want to have fun on the web, talk about Donald Trump! Maybe you’ll get an insight to how that person is in real life as well.
5. Don’t get provoked. This is important. You should never reply to emails or messages – no matter how obsene they are.
Do not assume that I’m discouraging you from making social media profiles! What I advice you, is to be smart on the web.