What should you do when your personal data leaks on social media, explains Dr. Debarati Halder

Be it photo number, location, photos, most often, we share our personal data on social media platforms without giving it a real thought. And there are times when this data gets shared on social media platforms without our permission. Our personal data goes into wrong hands and gets leaked out in the open as revenge pornography. People even get stalked or harassed on these platforms. What happens to privacy on these platforms? What goes into resolving these issues? What can be done when you face such a situation and what really happens? To understand the answers to these questions and more, Hidden Pockets had chat with Dr. Debarati Halder, Advocate and Honorary Managing Director, Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling. She is also the Founder -Secretary, South Asian Society of Criminology and Victimology. In the first part of this series, we have looked at understanding the response of social media platforms and police officers to cases related to online crime, victim blaming, pointers to be safe online, among others.

Things to watch out for as a victim

Hidden Pockets: What should anyone (especially women) facing any online crime like harassment, voyeurism, stalking etc do when they face such a situation?

Debarati Halder: The first thing that anyone especially women should not do is revert back with any kind of threatening statement. This will establish the crime. Say for example the person is being targeted for revenge pornography, instead of finding out who is the person who has committed the crime; the victim should take the evidence straight to the police office. Take the evidence and report the matter to the website concerned. In that way, the collection of the evidence or starting of the investigation can be done. Next thing is do not fall into traps. Things like talking to strangers, getting intimate with an online friend should be avoided. These things are still happening. Discussing personal data with unknown persons should be avoided.

Social media and its response to online crime

Hidden Pockets: Do you know of any cases when social media platforms refused to give information or block the offender completely?

Halder: Yes I know. We do also get cases where the offender may have been blocked. But this is not the answer to the problem. When you block one profile, that person can again come on Facebook and social media and create another profile. Blocking is not the total answer.

Hidden Pockets: How do you think such a situation should be handled?

Halder: Once the profile has been blocked, the victim has to take all the evidences that she has and go to the police with the link. It is with this link that the police find the IP address of the user. Essentially, they (victim) have to go to the police station and register a case. Otherwise the harassers will continue and so will the harassment by these offenders. The victim can also contact Facebook to remove the images.

Hidden Pockets: Do you know of cases when social media platforms refused to block the offenders completely? And what was the action taken in those cases? And what was the reason given by social media platforms?

Halder: Yes many times. Unfortunately no action was taken (in most cases). It is very common. Social media platforms ask you to come through the police as the channel. There is also the legal machinery channel that is you go through the court. Often the police may not know how exactly to contact the social media platform. Social media platforms have wonderful policy that says that they will not reveal the information of the account holder to anybody come what may. This is the reason you see so many new items that Facebook or Google do not reveal the information or the identity about the offenders even though the police have taken the cases to the court. This is the reason because of this policy.

The platforms say that they are taking action however they will not reveal the identity of the offender. This is because of their policy guidelines. Their policy is guided under the U.S laws. Our laws have got territorial nature, which means our laws especially the Information Technology Act can be effective for these websites even situated outside. Here comes the legal conflict. The websites may be situated outside the country but they may choose to abide by our laws. They have to then go to the U.S courts (to resolve this case). This is a long process. This is the reason for them to push back saying that they don’t reveal the identity (of the offender). Again in these cases, the victim cannot do anything. The matter needs to be taken to the court. With a good lawyer, something could happen. Then again, it is not so for all cases. In some case, social media platforms have given details of the person because the police officers could prove that it was a grave crime.

Sexting, revenge pornography and victim blaming

Hidden Pockets: What was done in the cases of revenge pornography at least in the cases that you handled personally?

Halder: In some cases, I was able to help them. On their (victim’s) behalf, I could successfully inform Facebook about the revenge pornography that was taking place. The offensive photos were removed. It is only a part of the recourse for the victim. We ask the victim to go to the police. With the existing available laws, victims can go to the police and ask for help. The offender should be punished. With this, I have got very little positive feedback because the victims undergo victim blaming, police apathy etc. One part of the case has been successful but the legal part has not always been successful. It is not that it was never successful but not always.

Hidden Pockets: With respect to revenge pornography and times changing, do you think it is important to start accepting legally and from the point of view of the police that sharing of images and videos have become a part of the culture when two people are in an intimate relationship?

Halder: This is called sexting. We know about texting and this is called sexting. This is happening, not only among teenagers but also among adults. This is happening. If you are going for it, then it may invite more trouble. Even if that person is completely trustworthy, that person’s device may be compromised or hacked so we then won’t know from where the picture might have leaked. So it should be avoided. Even though it has become a habit I would say even then it should be avoided I would say.

Hidden Pockets: Sure but what I’m trying to understand here is if the people handling these cases have understood that something called sexting is happening, especially with respect to victim blaming. Have they understood it?

Halder: No, majority of the police officers that I have seen who deal with these crimes especially revenge porn generated from sexting, they are not able to accept this as a common behaviour. When it is a question of victim blaming, the woman is generally asked why did you share such pictures. With this, the case is usually closed because they (the police) don’t know how to deal with the case. So yes, people who are dealing with these cases, I would say, are still not able to take sexting as a social habit.

Hidden Pockets: How do you think that can be changed? Do you think such a change has a role to play in how the system works?

Halder: Personally speaking even I’m against disseminating such photographs because it may invite danger. Now that it has become a social habit to a certain extent, we need to change our own mentality. We need to be broad-minded. One way is that when you are sharing such photographs, you need to also understand that you are inviting danger. The moment you are disseminating a picture, you should be broad enough to understand that there is a risk involved in it. With respect to the police officers who handle these cases, should avoid victim blaming and treat the victims as victims.Otherwise this will happen. This is similar to when a girl goes out and she is raped, instead of blaming her for her gender or her dress, the police should treat her as a victim. Similarly, in the online cases also this should be done.


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