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Bois locker room - legal and social perspectives

15 May, 2020

The recent ‘bois locker room’ chat that exploded over Instagram brought to the table the juxtaposition of the pros and cons that come with the intrusion of social media into the justice system. The Instagram group was a hub of activity that pertained to sharing pictures of minor girls, objectifying them, and making threats of rape. At the same time, a suicide of a 15-year-old boy who has been socially ostracized and convicted overnight by public opinion due to related allegations has surfaced. It must be noted that this is not the first time such incidents have taken place. 

Given this, one can only imagine such instances to rise in the coming time considering the exponential advancement in technology every day. This poses a serious threat to the social order. It also highlights the legal vacuum prevalent in the jurisprudence of cyberlaw given the failure of legal as well as technological institutions to keep such disasters at bay.

After a girl exposed the group, it went viral and an FIR has now been registered by the Delhi Police. The boys can probably be booked under the IT Act which covers the sharing of private images of any girl under S.66E and S.67B which pertains to the sharing of sexually explicit text or images of a child. S.354 of the IPC similarly punishes voyeurism for sharing and taking pictures of a woman engaging in sexual activity in privacy and covers situations where the private area may have been cropped out of the photo. Observing and collecting pictures of these girls from their profiles is covered under S.354D which criminalises stalking. Using a child for pornographic purposes, which includes indecent pictures and storing such pictures comes under S.14 and 15 of the POCSO Act. Since the boys are minors, the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act will be applicable.

Although Facebook has said the objectionable content that violated its community standards was removed as soon as it was made aware of it, these measures haven’t helped the situation in any way. The social media storm of outrage led to many more girls using it to publicly call out perpetrators of sexual harassment and abuse. Since the legal system is excruciatingly slow and has a history of silencing the victim, the new platform is seen as an advantageous tool. 

This makes one ponder upon the jurisprudence concerning cyber laws. Given the above-mentioned scenario, one might want to consider policies that give the sovereign laws an iron arm when it comes to laws concerning cyber protection so as to ensure greater transparency and accountability, therefore, leading to a more efficient collection of evidence. 

Additionally, one may want to shift the burden of cyber protection upon the social network companies to mandate them to come up with a superior AI in order to anticipate such offenses in advance and take the required pre-emptive measures. For instance, a computer model named sweetie who is an avatar of an 11-year-old Filipino girl has been created by a Dutch NGO called Terre des hommes as a digital solution to the problem of child online abuse. This AI technology is quite effective at identifying predators online and has led to convictions as well, as those who seek live child pornography online. 

Given that the social network companies in question are multi-billion dollar companies who readily invest billions of dollars into hiring experts to expand their platforms every day making it but profitable, it doesn’t in the least seem impractical to expect of them the technology to pre-emptively avoid such crimes. This is especially true when they bring with them risks of offenses which are against the basic notions of public morality.

On the other hand, recently, publicly calling out perpetrators of sexual harassment and abuse has led to the suicide of a 15-year-old boy who was socially ostracized and convicted overnight by public opinion over a crime he claims he did not commit. The girl responsible for the allegations may be charged under S. 306 of the Indian Penal Code for abetment of suicide as laid down in Ude Singh and Ors. v. The state of Haryana, where the Supreme Court declared that if the accused is played an active role in tarnishing the self-respect and self-esteem of the victim which leads to suicide, they can be charged under S.306 of the IPC. This has led to ensuing debates over whether the platform can be used by the victims to find justice. While the current legal system is broken, resorting to a new system that is also broken due to the immediate conviction of a person by the public without proof can lead to a host of issues as people have forgotten the primary presumption of innocence. This calls for a more effective system to be formulated that fixes the flaws of the current ones so that victims can achieve true justice with the proper execution of the legal process.

Apart from the legal concerns, there are some fundamental flaws in our social and cultural aspects as a society. In the entertainment industry which has millions of fan following. Bollywood as a genre has contributed to the inherent sexism and misogyny ingrained in the youth. Since blockbuster cinema is synonymous with the degradation of women in item numbers and the glorification of abusive heroes, the effects it has been worrying. 

Dr Manjiri Deshpande Shenoy explains why this a highly dangerous tool which moulds the younger generation hooked on this culture. She attributes the behavior to a lack of education, mostly gained from inadequate representation in the media. She emphasises that parents and schools need to get more involved in sex education with an emphasis on aspects such as consent and respect from a young age. Since the pre-frontal cortex is not fully developed as a teen, children tend to act on impulse and assimilate from the knowledge provided, which is clearly not enough at this stage. With respect to the boys involved in the ‘Bois Locker Room’ case, she recognises that although there is a need for punitive punishment to instill fear, there should be a rehabilitative aspect to it otherwise you run the risk of developing disorders like the antisocial personality disorder. Because understanding the reasons behind such behaviour and correcting it is the point of the legal system so such an act is not repeated.

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