Indian laws relating to cybercrime are vague, to say the least, especially when it comes to online harassment and stalking. One such form of online harassment is doxxing. Doxxing means to search and publish private or identifying information on the individual over the internet, usually with malicious intent. Idea is to embarrass them or draw criticism towards them but it is also often used to ruin someone’s reputation online or cause someone physical harm. This form of ‘revenge’ is far harmful as the gratification is instant but it could have far-reaching consequences.
Earlier today, AltNews co-founder Pratik Sinha revealed personal information, names of private individuals who choose to remain anonymous over the Internet just because he could.
The team behind misinformation that is made viral claiming to be ‘satire’ is as follows:@Being_Humor – Vinay Sharma, Mumbai@AMIT_GUJJU – Amit Sundarani, Anand@Gujju_Er – Prakash Javiya, Surat@pokershash – Shashank Singh, Kolkata@SmokingSkills_ – Yash Verma, Faridabad pic.twitter.com/RvBPtQxpAx
— Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) January 25, 2019
The people he has doxxed above run a satire and viral content website, hmpnews and thefauxy. They have given out adequate disclosures on their websites that their content is satirical in nature.
Sinha then went on to doxx yet another humour and parody account, SquintNeon.
The main person behind @squintneon is Manas Jyoti Sarma. He’s the state social media incharge of ABVP Assam and is based in Guwahati. He can be seen on the left of @vivekagnihotri in the following Faceboook post.https://t.co/q1qYuh4VcW
— Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) January 25, 2019
All the people mentioned above have kept their identity anonymous, but Sinha, who is not really any law enforcement personnel and was neither working with or authorised by any law enforcement agency to stalk someone online and find out their identities, not only put them up on the Internet for public consumption, but also led an online mob against them.
The Wire journalist Rohini Singh was also too excited about finding out information about private individuals and was found wondering if Sinha could dig out the photograph of that individual as well.
Haha. Please post their pics also next!
— Rohini Singh (@rohini_sgh) January 25, 2019
For a moment, sit back and wonder if the people who were doxxed like above were women. Unleashing an army of online trolls against someone where champions of privacy and crusaders against stalking are demanding their pictures next. You don’t have to look too far to see what if it were a woman whose identity was revealed.
This is Ridiculous !!! This Man @free_thinker is sharing personal information of anybody.I am getting Threats and abuses daily.He can share my details too.Seems @TwitterIndia is not safe for girls or anybody anymore .Please Take some action or we girls have to leave this App. pic.twitter.com/3YP73VWz0G
— Pooja Singh ?? (@pooja303singh) January 25, 2019
What would have happened if Sinha had put out information of the person who is getting death and rape threats? And is it really okay if they are men whose identities are revealed?
One of the person’s whose identity was revealed by Sinha earlier today comes from a volatile state. Sinha’s revelation just made him a marked man.
I have been using humour responsibly to convey messages and ideology I believe in- I have never advocated any violence against anyone. But given the way situation is in Assam, I now fear for my life as @free_thinker is making my identity clear means I am a marked man in Assam
— Manas Jyoti Sarma (@AssamSahasi) January 25, 2019
Who will take responsibility should something untoward happen to any of the people whose identities are revealed above? They hold no public office and hence their personal identity should not be anyone’s business.
What is worse is that Sinha is using ‘fact-checking’ as a shield to out anonymous accounts. He outed the identities as he was ‘fact-checking’ a ‘misinformation’ which was viral. Except that he himself admits that it was satire. So essentially, a bunch of guys wrote a satire, it went viral, the satire perhaps appeared so real people mistook it for real, and knight with a shining keyboard, Pratik Sinha swooped in playing poor man’s ACP Pradyuman and carried out ‘investigation’. Sinha ended up finding and outing real identities of private individuals only because they have a sense of humour. All under the garb of ‘fact-checking’.
This is not the first time Sinha has indulged in revealing an individual’s personal identity. Earlier, a Twitter user had filed a case against Sinha for breach of privacy and claimed Rs 5 crore in damages. Earlier he had displayed his stalker tendencies (the ones which could morph into even dangerous crimes if not controlled) against Rahul Roushan by targeting his wife and his newborn 2-month-old daughter.
Sinha is not the only one who has displayed such criminal tendencies. Troll Swati Chaturvedi, wrote a book doxxing private individuals and labelling them as ‘trolls’ just because most supported Prime Minister Modi. She, too, had doxxed OpIndia co-founder and gone after his personal life. Another journalist with BuzzFeed, Pranav Dixit had also stalked a lady online after she disagreed with him, found her LinkedIn profile and wrote an email to her employers asking them if they are aware that their employee who just happened to disagree with him. And these are all champions of privacy.
As if journalists doxxing people who disagree with them was not enough, Derek O’Brien, a Trinamool Congress MP, took advantage of his parliamentary privilege and used that platform to name and shame Twitter users who disagree with him.
In absence of law and clear legal framework when it comes to cybercrimes, it becomes easy for people to get away scotfree for crimes such as online stalking and harassment especially when they get the patronage from a certain section. Using data as a weapon, criminals could cause far more damage to individuals where information is available with just a few clicks.