Tinder: Beware! Cyberstalking is on the rise during the pandemic | #tinder | #pof


Last year, Divya Sharma noticed that almost 200 pictures of hers were liked by a random account on Instagram. She dismissed it as harmless until he started posting lewd comments. The Pune-based Archeology student says, “He then started sending me DMs asking if I would like to go on a date with him, which I continued to ignore. Frustrated, he started abusing me, and threatened to forcefully ‘make me his wife’.” That’s when Divya lodged an online complaint with the cyber police, got the account in question suspended, and the abuser punished. “No one has the right to threaten you in DMs or comments,” she asserts.

The chairperson of the National Commission for Women, Rekha Sharma at a virtual event told the media that online harassment, including cyberstalking, towards women has increased by 500%, last year.

Pic: Shutterstock

“The pandemic has certainly turned physical stalking into virtual stalking. It’s now easier to stalk people because there are so many apps, stalkerware, spyware, social media tools, etc,” says Rahul Krishan Ahuja, a cybercrime investigator, and consultant, adding, The internet gives the option of anonymity to the stalker, making tracking and identifying fake profiles difficult.”

“The concurrent increase in the use of digital platforms by adolescents and adults amid the pandemic has led to cyberstalking and other crimes. The youth is the most targeted,” says Sandip Kumar Panda, cyber expert and co-founder and CEO of InstaSafe Technologies. Experts say women are more likely to be victims of cyberstalking than men.

However, with the legal definition of – and the laws around – cyberstalking still being hazy in India, many don’t report or even realise they are being stalked online. Here’s how you can identify, and stay safe from, online stalkers.


‘THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ‘HARMLESS STALKING”

Shivraj Harsha Mysore, co-founder of a cybersecurity company TrustCheckr, warns, “Stalking by its very definition is repeated unwarranted contact or attention, so there is no such thing as ‘harmless stalking’. If stalkers continue to repeat their actions in spite of victims warning them not to do so – offline or online – then they can be dangerous.”

Many times, online stalking manifests into physical stalking and vice versa, adds Raina Raonta, video head, She The People, a platform for women. She recounts a harrowing incident, “Once a guy sent me 30,000 messages on FB messenger, even though I hadn’t met or seen him in real life. He then started harassing my parents on the phone, before stalking my younger sister and telling her that he ‘knows her whereabouts’. That’s when we finally filed a complaint against him. When the police busted him, they found that his laptop and phone had my pictures as screensaver. The crime of stalking is not a standalone crime and is of nature where many other offenses in the law are interlinked.”

The crime of stalking is not a standalone crime and is of nature where many other offenses in the law are interlinked
Pic: iStock


Online stalking is most common among Gen Z, who spend more time on social media and dating sites. “Young adults aged between 18 to 24, particularly women, are at highest risk,” says Shivraj, adding, “Students and individuals who live alone should be particularly careful. Using their victim’s social media check-ins, maps, and street view, stalkers can keep a virtual eye on their target’s address and neighbourhood, discover their location through photos and posts with geotags and even hijack their webcam.”

‘THERE IS NO LEGAL DEFINITION OF CYBERSTALKING IN INDIA YET’

Cyber-stalking essentially means repeated and unsolicited harassment of, or threatening, someone through the digital medium. However, Mukesh Chaudhary, chief consultant, cyber cell, Jaipur, says that India lacks a legal definition of, and a standalone law to tackle, cyberstalking, leading to many perpetrators abusing the loopholes. “There is no standalone section under the Indian IT Act that defines online stalking as a crime, hence there is an ambiguity about the exact number of cases filed under cyberstalking. They are always associated with her crime such as sharing pornographic content, harassment, threat, abuse, hate crime etc. One of the major issues is that after 2008, there has been no amendment in the IT Act. While cyberstalking is the most common ‘crime’ in the online space, the laws to punish stalkers for just visiting your profile, liking your pictures or commenting, are none in India. Even victims don’t raise an alarm for someone liking their posts unless they are being harassed or bullied. However, it is important to understand that most serious and heinous cybercrime begins with stalking,” stresses Mukesh.

Pic: iStock

For now, Sanjay Tungar, PI, Cyber Cell, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Pune, says, “A victim who is being stalked, harassed or abused can easily reach out for help through the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal’s victim-friendly platform,
cybercrime.gov.in, the social media handles of cyber police or the nearest police station.”

WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU ARE BEING STALKED ONLINE?

Keep an eye on comments on your posts: “If you suspect someone of stalking, block them immediately, and keep your profiles private and limited to your friends,” Rahul advises.

Report cyberstalkers immediately: “Report the account immediately to the administrator of the group or social media platform. If that doesn’t solve the problem, reach out to
cybercrime.gov.in (the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal), the Cyber Crime Cell (through their social media platforms), or the nearest police station,” says Sandip.

HOW DATING APPS ARE DEALING WITH STALKING

According to Shivraj, dating apps have witnessed 700% increase in engagement amid the lockdown. At the same time, bullying and stalking are rampant on the apps, which has led the latter to chalk out policies pertaining to these issues. Dating site Bumble, for example, has tied up with Red Dot Foundation (a body that fights sexual violence). “In India, a woman can choose to use only the first initial of her name to create her Bumble Date profile and can share her full name with connections when she feels ready and comfortable. The app also has a feature that allows them to block and report anyone whose behaviour goes against our community guidelines,” says Priti Joshi, VP of Global, strategy & operations at Bumble.

Pic: iStock

Tinder uses tools like automatic scans of profiles to red-flag language and images; manual reviews of suspicious profiles, activity, and user-generated reports; shadow-banning suspicious accounts; as well as blocking of email addresses, phone numbers, IP addresses and other identifiers associated with bullying and harassment.

WHAT IS THE PUNISHMENT FOR CYBER-STALKING?

  • Under Section 67 of the Act, when a stalker sends or posts any obscene content to the victim via electronic media then they will be liable to be punished with five years of jail and a fine of Rs 1 lakh. If the incidence repeats, then they will be liable to be punished with 10 years of jail and a fine of Rs 2 lakh.
  • Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with defamation, can be applied in cases of cyberstalking in India if the stalker forges the victim’s personal information to post an obscene message or comment on any electronic media. The punishment for any such act with imprisonment up to 2 years, fine, or both.

— Rahul Krishan Ahuja, cybercrime investigator, and consultant



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