The spur in e-activism amidst The COVID-19 pandemic in India

– Stuti Singh

The COVID-19 has brought unprecedented changes in human society, the social animal, Human is now obliged to follow social distancing norms. In times like these, Social Media is the one omnipresent and omnipotent tool connecting everyone. In the first week of lockdown, Indians spent more than four hours every day on social media which is an 87 per cent increase from a week before lockdown[1] in India. Such drastic usage of Social Media has led along with it a new wave of social media activism. An example to it can be that The World is now aware of the racial discrimination carried out against the Black people by not only a part general masses but also by the men in uniform of The U.S.A., the extra judicial and unjustified killing of George Floyd has brought about a revolution in America against racial discrimination, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was trending and this brought to light a crucial matter which was dumped in shallows otherwise.This e-activism survives on the shoulders of the youth, such awareness among the youth to bring about social justice is at a surge and highly appreciable, but this coin too, has two sides. The recent events over these online platforms are a proof of the same.

One such barbaric act came to light and garnered nationwide attention after massive outrage on social media, wherein A pregnant female elephant was killed by some men in Kerala’s Silent Valley Forest when they fed her with explosive laden pineapple. “Her jaw was broken and she was unable to eat after she chewed the pineapple and it exploded in her mouth. It is certain that she was offered the pineapple filled with crackers to eliminate her,” Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden Surendra Kumar told PTI. The elephant died at the Velliyar River in Malappuram district on May 27. In action taken against this inhuman act, an F.I.R was launched against unknown perpetrators under relevant sections of The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.[2]  This brutal act which could have went unnoticed otherwise was brought to light when the details of the incident were earlier shared by Forest officer Mohan Krishnan on his Facebook page. The Forest officer, who was moved by the pain of the innocent animal, wrote in Malayalam about the incident on Facebook. He also shared pictures of the elephant in the searing pain[3], this post was then shared massively over various social media platforms and thus, quick actions were taken to settle the public outrage. This e-activism and awareness also brought to light the constant animal cruelty against elephants taking place in Kerela during religious processions which leads to death of the Elephants who are otherwise held captive. The helpless elephants in captivity are put to stand in the scorching sun, denying even food, water and sleep, in the name of religion and tourism promotion. “It is also a fact that no scripture or religious text say that temple elephant should be part of temple festivals,” says Ms Sandhya, district co-ordinator of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty against Animals (SPCA)[4]. This surge of awareness thus, brought out justice and helped towards a grave cause.

Also, Recently a very sensitive issue of ‘Bois Locker Room’ came into light, wherein an Instagram group consisting of boys aged 16-18 was made and it turned out that members were sharing images of their classmates and other underage girls without their knowledge or consent along with crude comments ranging from body shaming to jokes on sexual assault and rape.

Such grave, immoral and lewd act came into the public light and the screenshots of the same were widely shared over various social media platforms and garnered international attention, not only did it re-surface the much needed concern of women safety over online platforms but also an FIR was registered against them under sections 465 (forgery), 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record), 469 (forgery for purpose of harming reputation), 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of IPC and sections 67 (publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) and 67A (publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act in electronic form) of the IT Act,”[5] The issue needed to be addressed and noticed by masses but other factors which need to be addressed are that (A) The identity of boys who are underage and ‘juveniles’ in the eyes of law, their identity was compromised as their Instagram handles were exposed in the said screenshots and otherwise, which in itself does not follow along s. 74(1) of the Juvenile Justice Act, which states that no report in any newspaper, magazine, or audio-visual media regarding investigation or judicial procedure, shall disclose the name, address or school or any other particular, which may lead to the identification of a child in conflict with law.[6] In accordance to it, In the case of Subash Chandra Rai v. State of Sikkim,[7] it was held that: “…for a child in conflict with law, the name, address, school or other particulars which could lead to the child being tracked, found and identified shall be disclosed…The Police and Media as well as the Judiciary are required to be equally sensitive in such matters and to ensure that the mandate of law is complied with to the letter.”

Further, (B) An attached screenshot which was shared  along with this, wherein A person named ‘Siddharth’ (indicating the gender- Male) is suggesting a plan of aggravated sexual assault of a girl to another boy, The police probe revealed that the alleged Snapchat conversation is actually between a girl (sender) and a boy (receiver) in which the girl is sending chat messages through a fictional Snapchat account named ‘Siddharth’. “Using the fake identity of a male person, the girl suggested in the chat, a plan to sexually assault herself. The purpose of her sending such chat messages using a fake, fictional identity was to check the reaction of the receiver boy and the strength of his character, especially when someone talks bad things about the girl herself. The receiver, also a juvenile, declined to participate in any such plan suggested by ‘Siddharth’ and stopped further communication with ‘him’, said the Delhi Police.[8]

These facts thus arise a reasonable question, When people believe everything shared on Social Media as a reliable truth, and such sensitive matters spread like wildfire, Isn’t this the responsibility of social media users to test the sources and credibility for the same and make sure that they themselves are not violating the laws of the country by their mere irresponsibility?

Yet again, the positive aspect of Social Media activism can’t be looked away from, many incidents which would have otherwise went unnoticed were brought to justice by the much aware social media users and their will to contribute towards a positive change. With reference to it, Twitter- A leading social media platform with 48.35 monthly active twitter users[9] has brought a recent feature in wake of fake news spreading on the platform. The fact-checking labels were rolled out in the first week of May,2020 as a way to combat misinformation related to COVID-19 Initially, the labels were mostly used to link back to medical authorities’ information about the virus when people posted false claims or misleading information. Recently they included the feature with three categories of labels “Misleading information” (things that haven’t been confirmed to be false or misleading by experts), “Disputed claims” (statements where the truth or credibility is contested or unknown) and “Unverified claims” (information that is unconfirmed at the time it is shared)[10] This is one step closer towards the e-activism which would bring only positive results for everyone, seeking for a unified and justiciable world.

[1] Business Today, March 30,2020, ‘Corona Virus: 87% increase in social media usage amid lockdown’ https://www.businesstoday.in/technology/news/coronavirus-87-percent-increase-in-social-media-usage-amid-lockdown-indians-spend-4-hours-on-facebook-whatsapp/story/399571.html

[2]  IndiaTV News, June 03, 2020 20:07 IST , “Massive outrage over pregnant elephant’s brutal ‘murder’ in Keralahttps://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india/pregnant-elephant-death-kerala-malappuram-massive-outrage-political-reactions-623136

[3] Zee News India, June 4,2020, 01:21 IST, “Massive outrage over Kerala pregnant elephant’s killing using cracker-filled pineapple, strict action sought” https://zeenews.india.com/india/massive-outrage-over-kerala-pregnant-elephants-killing-using-cracker-filled-pineapple-strict-action-sought-2287809.html

[4] The Hindu, November 8, 2016, 01:04 IST, ”Cruelty against Elephants”, Radhakrishnan Kuttur  https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/Cruelty-against-elephants/article13308869.ece

[5]Scroll.in, May 04, 2020, 11.45 PM, “Bois Locker Room: South Delhi Boys create instagram group to share photos of girls, FIR filed”  https://scroll.in/latest/961032/boys-locker-room-south-delhi-boys-create-instagram-group-to-share-lewd-photos-of-girls-fir-filed

[6]  Section 74, The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, No. 2 of 2016, Acts of Parliament (India).

[7]  Subash Chandra Rai v. State of Sikkim, 2018 CriLJ 3146.

[8] Times Now News, May 11,2020, 1.54 IST, “Bois Locker Room Probe: Girl created fake profile to test boys, says Delhi Police” https://www.timesnownews.com/mirror-now/crime/article/new-twist-in-bois-locker-room-case-juvenile-girl-created-fake-profile-to-test-boys-say-delhi-police/589894

[9]  Omnicore Blog, February 10,2020, “Twitter by the number: Stats, Demographics and Facts” https://www.omnicoreagency.com/twitter-statistics/

[10]  abc News, 27 May 2020, 21.28 IST , “What to know about Twitter’s Fact Checking Labels”, Catherine Thorbeck,  https://abcnews.go.com/Business/twitters-fact-checking-labels/story?id=70903715

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