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Explained: What is Online Trolling and Legal Remedies Available to Victims

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Trolling takes a huge mental, emotional and physical toll on their targets

What is trolling?

Trolling is worst form of online abuse, trolls use tactics such as harassment and bullying. Deliberately post offensive or inflammatory content online which are also prohibited under laws applicable in India.

Who are trolls?

A troll is a person who starts flame wars or intentionally upsets people on the internet.

Whom do trolls target?

Anyone and everyone, it could be individuals or groups of people. Women are extremely frequent targets.

Why is trolling harmful?

Trolling takes a huge mental, emotional and physical toll on their targets. Trolling may be deployed to distract from real issues. Trolls are also used to influence and enforce rigid cultural and social customs and guidelines which may have no legal force. It can also lead to offline action.

Why is it a problem?

Trolls are usually paid manipulative tricks to post offensive material online. In this process social media trends such as Twitter trends are generated using hashtags against person or groups.

What legal avenues do targets of trolling have?

Targets of trolling can seek redressal under provisions which relate to criminal intimidation, sexual harassment, defamation, voyeurism, online stalking and obscene content. However, seeking legal redressal places the burden on target.

The Indian Penal Code, 1860 does not define trolling or bullying. However, various provisions of the Code read with the Information technology Act, 2000 (“IT Act”) can be used to fight cyber bullies and Trolls.

How effective are these legal avenues?

It is difficult to punish Trolls as Trolls are often anonymous making it difficult for the petition to find acceptance in the legal process. However, hate speech, intimidation, threats of rape, incitement to violence all are actionable.

Has anyone been prosecuted for trolling in India?

Yes. This has happened very rarely. Trolling is more sophisticated and characterized by group attacks and anonymity. Example, One Bollywood singer was arrested in 2016 and for abusing journalist online. His Twitter account later suspended.

Why should we care and how can we show support?

Trolling can lead to disruption of peace and harmony such as hate speech. It poisons the mindset of people. It creates a cultural of fear. Even if we don’t support the ideology of those who are trolled, just declaring support can be helpful.

(The author, Prachi Mishra, is a Supreme Court lawyer and Additional Advocate General, Chhattisgarh)