Cyberbullying, fake news and other crimes: Is Home Ministry’s ‘Handbook for adolescents/students on Cyber Safety’ Enough?

By: | Updated: December 3, 2018 8:10 PM

In an era when two-thirds of the world's population is connected by mobile devices ( as per the Global Mobile Trends 2017 by GSMA Intelligence), the increasing exposure of young children and teenagers to social media has rightfully concerned parents and authorities.

The increasing exposure of young children and teenagers to social media has rightfully concerned parents and authorities (Representational Image)

The Ministry of Home Affairs has published a booklet, titled “A Handbook for adolescents/students on Cyber Safety” to create awareness about various cyber crimes such as identity theft, job fraud, email spoofing. The booklet also shows ways on how children can protect themselves to deal with cyberbullying, cyber grooming and email fraud.

In an era when two-thirds of the world’s population is connected by mobile devices ( as per the same Global Mobile Trends 2017 by GSMA Intelligence), the increasing exposure of young children and teenagers to social media has rightfully concerned parents and authorities.

The 38-page booklet says, “As a thumb rule, only add people online whom you know offline, asking them never to share personal information like date of birth, address, phone number on social media and not install unwanted software or apps like dating app, online games from unknown sources.”

The “Blue Whale” challenge that shook India last year was a prime example of what happens when a phenomenon goes viral and the lack of readiness on part of the authorities to stem the spread.

In July 2017, a 14-year-old boy jumped to his death from the seventh floor of a Mumbai high-rise. A young boy in Indore tried to jump from the 3rd floor of his school building but was pulled away in the nick of time in August 2017. These are just some of the cases that were reported to be from Blue Whale challenge.

A 2017 Google Trends report shows that India was the third highest numbers of searches related to the Blue Whale Challenge in the world after Bangladesh and Pakistan. While it may not mean that the searchers were looking to commit suicide, the mass hysteria and the teenage deaths reported in India was enough to set the alarm bells ringing.

A 2017 Google Trends report shows that India was the third highest numbers of searches related to the Blue Whale Challenge in the world after Bangladesh and Pakistan. (Source: Google trends)

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The handbook not just addresses Cyberbullying but also looks into Cyber grooming which, it says, is growing as “one of the major cyber threats faced by children and teenagers.” Cyber grooming, the handbook continues, is a practice where a person establishes an emotional bond with children using social media or other messaging platforms with a sole objective of gaining trust to sexually abuse or exploit them.

“Details shared on internet stay online forever as it is extremely difficult to delete the information completely,” it cautions.

A study by Punjabi University, Patiala in October 2017, found that Indian school students face more online and offline bullying than those in some western countries. The findings, a part of the publication titled `Bullying, cyberbullying and pupil well-being in schools: Comparing European, Australian and Indian Perspectives,’ by Cambridge University Press.

Once upon a time, bullying was limited to school playgrounds, and harassment to workplaces, when it involved adults. But technology has given teeth to this evil and now it has entered the virtual world. With the increase in the use of gadgets and internet, Cyberbullying is evolving and taking many forms such as spreading rumours, distributing embarrassing photos or videos, identity theft, trickery, threatening and what not.

The past decade has seen exponential growth in social media and rapid rise of electronic-based communication has completely changed how we interact, socially and professionally. And, the belief is not unfounded either. In the second quarter of 2017, the number of unique mobile subscribers reached 5 billion globally. It is estimated that by the year 2020, nearly 75 per cent of the global population will be connected by mobile phones, as per the date provided by the according to Global Mobile Trends 2017 report by GSMA Intelligence.

The 38-page booklet also talks about fake news and says, “Fake news and hoax messages spread like wildfire on social media (such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat). It may create law and order problem and may end up causing loss of life in a few cases. Before forwarding or sharing any message on social media or messaging app, check it on other sources also to confirm its authenticity.”

Between May to June 2018, more than 20 people were killed by mobs on the basis of viral fake posts or rumours on social media platforms, reported Indian Express.

Besides talking about the malicious fake news taking its roots in social media, the booklet also cautions about cybersecurity. Over 53,000 cases of cybersecurity incidents were reported in 2017 in India, while 1,785 credit/debit cards frauds were recorded, causing a loss of Rs 71.48 crore last year, as per Indian Computer Response Team (CERT-In).

In 2017, a Cyber and Information Security (C&IS) division was established to check the increasing cyber crimes and cyber threats. The division “aims to introduce the cybercrime handbook in schools as a component of the school curriculum,” a report carried by the Indian Express said.

But the question remains – Is it really enough?

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