Feeling digitally unsafe? A beginner’s guide to legally protect yourself against cyber crimes


While you could be as bright as a button, but being on a public platform comes with a whole lot of responsibilities. Most importantly, you have to be thoughtful about what you share or say that may hurt others.

Many young people experience cyber-bullying every day. Some face extreme forms of online abuse. Some have taken their own lives as a result. A lot of social media sites have already introduced ways to address and protect their users with new tools, guidance, and ways to report online abuse, but in case of an unpleasant online incident try not to blow a fuse. As you browse through the digital lives of the 21st century, here’s what you need to know to stay protected at all times. 

Firstly, know the difference. There are three types of Internet harassment — Cyber-stalking, Cyber harassment, and Cyber Bullying. They are explained below: 

Cyber stalking: Cyber stalking is the use of the Internet, email or other electronic communications to stalk, and generally refers to a pattern of threatening or malicious behaviors. Cyber stalking may be considered the most dangerous of the three types of Internet harassment, based on a posing credible threat of harm. Many stalkers are motivated by a desire to exert control over their victims and engage in similar types of behaviour to accomplish this end. Given the enormous amount of personal information available through the Internet, a cyber stalker can easily locate private information about a potential victim. The fact that cyber stalking does not involve physical contact may create the misperception that it is more benign than physical stalking. This is not necessarily true. 

As the Internet becomes an ever more integral part of our personal and professional lives, stalkers can take advantage of the ease of communications as well as increased access to personal information. Whereas a potential stalker may be unwilling or unable to confront a victim in person or on the telephone, he or she may have little hesitation sending harassing or threatening electronic communications to a victim. As with physical stalking, online harassment and threats may be a prelude to a more serious behaviour, including physical violence. The Delhi Police has registered India’s First Case of Cyberstalking in 2001 where a lady named Ritu Kohli complained that a person who was using her identity to chat over the Internet at the website www.mirc.com was also deliberately giving her telephone number to other chatters encouraging them to call Ritu Kohli at odd hours. As a result of which, Mrs. Kohli received an estimate of 40 calls, national as well as international, during odd hours within 3 days. A case was registered under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code (Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman). 

As the Internet becomes an ever more integral part of our personal and professional lives, stay alert while you go online. (picture for representation)

Cyber harassment: There is no universal legal definition of cyber harassment, but it typically is defined as repeated, unsolicited, threatening behaviour by a person or group using mobile or Internet technology with the intent to bother, terrify, intimidate, humiliate, threaten, harass or stalk someone else. The harassment can take place in any electronic environment where communication with others is possible, such as on social networking sites, on message boards, in chat rooms or through email. 

Cyber bullying: the term “Cyber bullying” is used when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. It has to have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against another minor. Once adults become involved, it is plain and simple cyber-harassment or cyber stalking. Cyber bullying is the use of the Internet and related technologies to harm other people, in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner. 

Cyber bullying has been defined by The National Crime Prevention Council as “When the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.” Cyber bullying can be as simple as continuing to send e-mail or text harassing someone who has said they want no further contact with the sender. It may also include: 1. Public actions such as repeated threats. 2. Sexual remarks 3. Pejorative labels (i.e., hate speech) or defamatory false accusations) 4. Ganging up on a victim by making the person the subject of ridicule in online forums. 5. Hacking into or vandalizing sites about a person, and posting false statements as fact aimed at discrediting or humiliating a targeted person. 6. Posting rumours about a person on the internet to bring about hatred in others’ minds or convince others to dislike or participate in online denigration of a target. 7. Personally identifying victims of crime and publishing materials severely defaming or humiliating them.

(The writer is an advocate at Supreme Court of India, and views expressed are personal)