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Rape of a 16-year-old minor girl in Mumbai by her ‘Instagram friends’ reveal a dark side of social media no one talks about

Privacy, data leaks, cyber crimes, morphing and doxxing are terms alien to the young who have unlimited access to digital devices and social media without understanding the perils of it.

Mumbai police arrested six people in the age group of 19 and 23 for allegedly assaulting a 16-year-old girl sexually in the northern suburbs.

The six boys were arrested after the victim’s mother had lodged a complaint with the police when her daughter did not return home from a birthday party on the intervening night of May 31-June 01. 

A case of kidnapping was registered with the Malvani police when the mother approached the police with a missing complaint. “The accused are survivor’s social media friends,” said the police officer. On June 1, the girl returned home, however, she did not reveal anything to her parents. Her mother then informed the police who with a team took the victim into confidence to narrate the incident. 

The minor then informed that she had been invited for a friend’s birthday party near a hotel in Madh. Upon reaching the spot she saw three of her male friends were waiting for her. Post the birthday celebrations in a parked car the three boys raped her inside the vehicle. Scared to face her parents, the girl went to a friend’s house who she knew through Instagram. She said that he also raped her. She then went to the houses of two other friends she knew through Instagram, who also sexually assaulted her.

The accused have been booked under the charges of gang rape and various sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. After being produced before the court, the accused have been remanded to police custody.

Privacy, data leaks, cyber crimes, morphing and doxxing are terms alien to the young who have unlimited access to digital devices and social media without understanding the perils of it. With technology at our fingertips but very little knowledge on how to make correct use of it, the humongous virtual world act more like a trap especially for young minds.

The dark side of social media 

As per a 2021 data, social media applications such as Snapchat, Tik Tok and Instagram have the 13-34 age group as their largest active audience. With abusive, sexual and violent content unfurled all across these platforms with very little monitoring, it is simply trapping more and more children in the virtual world, dragging them far away from reality.

From making friends to fans, social media acceptance is seen as an achievement by the teens thus pushing them to indulge in age-inappropriate activities to get the ‘desired reach.’

A 2020 Netflix documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’ brought to light the world of the millennials and the Gen-Z chasing likes and shares on these virtual platforms. So much so, that rejection (not getting enough likes) has pushed enough children in the USA towards suicide and mental depression. 

Not built for children originally, the wide acceptance and very little parental control have encouraged the social media platforms to launch newer features and tools making it ‘child-friendly’ while they are busy making friends on social media. 

As if pushing the young minds into a virtual world with the existing platforms was not enough, after YouTube kids, Instagram is all set to launch ‘Instagram for kids.’

As parents worry about the mental health and growing lack of confidence and communication skills among their children, the big tech is viewing the teens and pre-teens as nothing more than an untapped market. 

17-year-old jumped to death for being labeled a ‘rapist’

On the 4th of May, 2020, a 17-year-old boy, Manav, jumped from the 11th floor of his apartment building, landing on the road below and ultimately, losing his life after being labeled as a ‘rapist’.

An Instagram group had been outed by a girl, where a bunch of teenage boys were seemingly discussing women, sharing their explicit photographs and discussing how they can gang-rape them. Though it was later found that the chat about ‘gang-rape‘ was initiated by a girl who was trying to “test” the boys, at the time, a raging discussion had erupted about the conduct of up-scale boys and the lack of respect for women and their privacy.

Amidst the controversy, a teenage girl took to Instagram and narrated a story about how she was allegedly raped over 2 years ago by a boy named Manav. In the one hour that followed, threats were made to the boy, he was vilified, branded, insulted, abused. The pressure and the prospect of a life of shame were too much for Manav to accept pushing him into committing suicide.

Girls locker room

Two days after the ‘Bois Locker Room’ Instagram chat took Twitter by storm for glorifying rape culture, another controversy, of a similar nature, had come to the fore. That time around, screenshots of voyeuristic chats between the girls of an alleged version of girls’ locker room were doing the rounds on the Internet. The alleged women-only group is run by girls and is allegedly used for objectifying men and making unsavoury remarks against them.

Cybercrimes on a rise

With the pandemic keeping the schools shut, children locked up at home and hooked to digital devices, cybercrime cases are on a rise. As per a Money Control report, two classmates (male and female) chatted frequently on social media. One day the boy’s account was hacked and the hacker started chatting with the girl and began sending “soiled” links, vulgar images and even posted it on the boy’s social media accounts, leading to an uproar.

Only upon a legal investigation was it found that the male student’s account was broken into and that he was innocent of the crimes for which he was arrested traumatizing both the students. 

In a serious case of online radicalization, four boys went missing from the Kalyan area of Maharashtra and were found dead in another country a few weeks later.

A police investigation revealed that the boys were chatting on social media with a girl, who was nothing but a bot. The boys went on to become ISIS fighters and traveled via multiple countries to reach their destination, with their families unaware of their situation and they are not the only ones.

Lack of parental control

While the internet can be a great place to surf, connect and shop, the content floating on the world wide web is not necessarily appropriate for minors with parents having very little knowledge of the content.

From abusive meme pages that are full of sexual inuendos to glamorous ‘reels’, a wide variety of content is dished out to the minors who ultimately think of it as regular content. 

As per a 2016 survey, 51 per cent of teens do not share incidents of the web with their parents. Most parents are unaware of hacking, cyberbullying, data theft and radicalization all of which are easily possible through social media networks. 

Unfortunately, keeping an eye over the online activities of children is now seen as restricting their freedom. However, there is a need to find a balance, educate parents about the content available on especially social media and a need to monitor not just the time but even the activities of especially teens and pre-teens on social media.

Apart from making use of the very same technology to keep an eye on the activities of children like parental control applications, it is imperative for the parents to establish a strong communication bond with the kids. While the crimes can be kept at bay with several applications, it is crucial to monitor the content being consumed by children and also be aware of the content being put out by them in the virtual space.

In the digital space where even children are not spared, it is not a bad idea for parents to take up some digital courses on ‘online safety for parents’ available for free.

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