In spite of continuous attempts by hundreds of concerned Facebook users to report and block the page over several days throughout the past week, Facebook administrators declined to pull out the group, citing it did not ‘violate their community standards’ pertaining to credible threat of violence, nudity or pornography. Finally, owing to the relentless efforts of vigilant Facebook users, Facebook administrators eventually made a decision to remove the group on Monday evening. But it is only a speck of the cancer that presently continues to spread among local users of social media by way of victimising users as well as by promoting a culture that condones and accepts offences such as rape.
"What has aided the spike of cyber-crimes is the fact that offenders cannot be prosecuted"
Only a speck of the cancer
Several more pages and groups of the same vein administered by local users still remain on the social networking site, operating under titles such as ‘Sri Lankan schoolgirl pics’, ‘Fans of girls’, ‘Sri Lankan sexsweet girls’, ‘Hot and sexy girls in Sri Lanka’ preying particularly on young, female users. They feature derogatory images of young girls (even students in uniforms) and their subscribers have commented on each image with equally offensive responses. In a majority of cases, the girls featured in the images are probably unaware of the fact that their personal images and their contact information have been stolen and put up on these pages and groups. In a few of the groups that were open to the public, some of the subscribers had even submitted their phone numbers along with their comments, requesting the girls in the images to contact them so they could have a ‘good time’.
"some of these pages are reported to the administrators and thereby blocked, more keep recurring since they are not actions taken directly against the instigators"
This is a global issue. There have been numerous reports on ‘cyber-anarchists’ who have proliferated ‘rape pages’ and other content that have clearly committed sexual harassments and in turn drawn in millions of users into such offensive groups. In 2011, a petition signed by close to 200,000 people in Britain and the US was directed at Facebook that urged the removal of a page named “You know she’s playing hard to get when you’re chasing her down an alley”. In spite of the continuous attempts however, similar activities have only burgeoned on the social networking site that promoted the site administrators to remove more than half a dozen of such groups and pages several years ago.
Although some of these pages are reported to the administrators and thereby blocked, more keep recurring since they are not actions taken directly against the instigators. These offensive pages and groups on Facebook shed light on the challenges faced by law enforcement authorities as well as individual social media networks with concern to policing individuals’ actions online as well as about taking action against defamatory communities created within the sites, as the users tend to shield themselves with the users’ freedom to voice their opinions and likening some of the content in their pages to jokes.
"it should be considered whether laws are the solution in dealing with cyberspace offenders"
Rape or sexual
harassment is no joke
However, legal experts point out, that offenders who administer and promote defamatory content on social media sites absolutely cannot shield themselves using freedom of expression as an excuse. “Whether it is sending anonymous letters around a workplace or promoting content that would harm or offend an individual, the graveness of the offence is similar. Moreover, offences committed on social media sites and other spheres of cyber space is much worse as it is on public domain and also since digital activity is ‘public and permanent’. Freedom of speech or right to expression is not an unlimited privilege. If the content promoted on social media violates an individual’s privacy, sexually harasses an individual or promotes crimes, then it is as wrong as committing the said crimes in the real world,” says Professor Camena Gunaratne, lecturer of the Department of Law at the Open University of Sri Lanka.
“Social media bullying is a grave issue and a global concern and it is not simply the girls who are harassed but also women activists as well as boys who are bullied on social media sites about issues such as homosexuality, which results in serious emotional issues and have driven the victims even to suicide. Although certain countries are gearing up and updating their legal frameworks to deal with such offences committed on cyberspace, Sri Lanka is still very weak with concern to grappling social media bullying as well as other offences committed on cyber space such as sexual harassment,” she said.
Law is weak - but not
the only solution
Professor Gunaratne also points out that what has aided the spike of cyber-crimes is the fact that offenders cannot be prosecuted. “With the advances of technology, the offenders have discovered loopholes to escape laws. Therefore, offences such as defamation by way of emails unlike other forms of communication can prove tough to be taken up for prosecution,” she added.
She also stressed on the importance of developing and updating the laws in order to grapple cyber-space offenders, keeping in mind the profiles of the instigators. “Most often it is the young generations who are well-versed with cyber space activities and it is they who at times instigate offensive pages or promote offensive content. Therefore, it should be kept in mind that laws are not the sole solution to the issues. It is high time that schools shed attention on this issue and took it up seriously. Moreover, parental pressure and attention on the children and their activities on cyberspace is vital,” she explained.
She went on to state that it should be considered whether laws are the solution in dealing with cyberspace offenders. “Awareness and education would be important not simply in terms of preventing the teenagers from turning into offenders but also with concern to preventing them from being vulnerable to such crimes and be preyed upon sexually,” Professor Gunaratne added.
Although laws might not be the sole solution, a development in the extremely weak legal framework with outdated regulations that currently exists to grapple with cyberspace offenders - the Sri Lankan Computer Crimes Act No. 24 of 2000 -would definitely be a significant improvement as even national agencies established to prevent cyber crimes are toothless.
Be aware and on the alert
Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team | Coordination Team (SLCERT|CC) claims they are not provisioned to take any legal action against the offenders and can only take certain steps to ensure that cyber crimes are prevented. “We are not a law enforcement agency or authority; our main role is incident response and pro-actively working on preventing cyber incidents etc. Therefore, with concern to offences that are carried out on social networking sites such as Facebook, the best option that can be taken is to report the particular post, page or group,” SLCERT|CC Spokesman Roshan Chandraguptha said.
Mr. Chandraguptha goes on to state however that if the users are aware and are careful concerning their activity on cyberspace most of the victimisations could be avoided. “Social media is a great tool to socialise with people around the world. But just like in the real world we interact and live in, there are some people we should avoid contact with in order to be safe and the same applies to cyber space. For example, in the real world we would not walk up to a complete stranger and share all our personal information and open up ourselves. Therefore, the same type of rules apply when interacting in any social networking site or any sphere of cyber space for that matter,” he added.