A 22-YEAR-OLD Freeport woman, who was the victim of cyber-bullying over the weekend, is calling for stronger legislation to deal with the intentional misuse of social media.
The woman said she looked on in shock as multiple accounts on Instagram posted dozens of photos of teens and adults, some in compromising photos and videos, and others with defamatory remarks.
“It was a huge talking point online, everyone was commenting on these photos and videos and speculating about people’s character and behavior.”
She did not expect to wake up on Sunday to see screenshots of her own smiling photo with a defamatory comment shared by one of the accounts.
“It’s an innocently posted photo where I liked the way I looked. Now, it’s out there with these nasty allegations because it seems somebody had nothing better to do.”
The woman, who Newsday reached out to, said this was not the first instance where photos and videos were posted online in an attempt to shame and embarrass people.
Newsday understands over the weekend, a series of accounts with similar names, posted pornographic images and photos of people with defamatory remarks. The accounts also solicited photos from its followers. Numerous videos were also posted where teenagers were shown along with their names and ages.
“This is far too common. We need legislation that is so strong, people stop even considering (posting) this kind of nonsense,” the woman said.
The woman said her relatives comforted her when her photo was posted but she questioned the potential impact on younger, more vulnerable people.
“If you are not strong-minded, this kind of attack can bring you down. What is the purpose of posting these things about people? I have seen my neighbours’ photos, people I know from the community, posted with the nastiest of allegations. It really makes you wonder just how sick and twisted these people are.”
She said it was not enough for those in authority to simply warn people to be careful of what they post.
“We need police to start breaking down doors and arresting these people who bully from behind their keyboards. We need to make an example of them and then you will see how quickly it stops being such a major problem.”
The woman said she intends to file a police report. “I hope it is taken seriously because it seems like people disregard the effects this kind of bullying can have. This is very serious.”
AL-RAWI’S BILLS LANGUISHING
Newsday tried to contact former attorney general Faris Al-Rawi who piloted several bills seeking to ban non-consensual publication of intimate photos.
On January 2022, he said an amendment to the Sexual Offences (Amendment)(No 3) Bill 2021 would penalise “revenge porn” offences with a penalty of two years’ jail and a $250,000 fine at the Magistrate’s Court, or five years’ jail and $750,000 fine at the High Court.
Such offences, Al-Rawi envisaged, included taking and/or sharing intimate images without consent, including creating fake pornographic images of real individuals.
In 2020, Al-Rawi piloted the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill 2020, which bans “the dissemination of intimate images of the applicant or applicant’s child” electronically or by any other means.
The bill also widened the definition of “emotional or psychological abuse” and prohibited abuse via “unwelcome or intimidatory contact” by any method including electronic means.
On December 21, 2019, at a news-briefing Al-Rawi announced the Cybercrime Bill 2017 to outlaw the intentional and unlawful capture, storage or transmission of images of “the private area of another person without his/her consent, where the other person has a reasonable expectation that he could disrobe in privacy.”
The proposed penalty was a $100,000 fine and two years jail (Magistrate Court) or $500,000 fine and three years jail (High Court). However, these proposals are yet to become law.
TTPS WARNS PARENTS
The TTPS has warned parents to be careful of their children falling victim to online sexual predators and cyber bullies. In a statement on Monday, it urged parents to monitor children’s online activities as incidences of cyber-bullying are beginning to emerge.
“Parents are being urged to monitor their children’s online activities and have open lines of communication with them about instances of cyber-bullying, so that the necessary and appropriate actions can be taken to protect them from such dangers.
“This is in light of the emergence of several Instagram accounts this weekend, which have been posting explicit images of minors and women, along with defamatory captions. Parents are reminded to be vigilant about what their children post to social media, as seemingly innocent content can be used by cyber bullies and extortionists to target users.”
Head of the Special Victims Unit Snr Supt Claire Guy-Alleyne told Newsday that concerned parents should report suspicious incidents to the police, as these are very serious matters, which must be addressed.
Reports can be made to the Special Victims Department at 612-2470 extensions 16057 and 16058, by calling 999, 555, 800-TIPS or the nearest police station.”
Under Section 40 of the Children Act, anyone knowingly making any child pornography or copy thereof; publishes, distributes, transmits or shows any child pornography, commits an offence and is liable on conviction on indictment, to a fine of $30,000 and imprisonment for ten years.
Under the Libel and Defamation Act, if anyone maliciously publishes any defamatory libel, knowing it to be false, he/she is liable on conviction to imprisonment for two years and to pay such fine as the court directs.
Guy-Alleyne told Newsday, “We want people to understand once they are being aggrieved, let them come forward to us. Don’t just sit there and take the law into your own hands.”
She said the police can identify the IP addresses and physical location of individuals who post offensive/illegal content, through the use of technology in the TTPS Cyber Crimes Unit.
She said the police need as much information as possible to prosecute offenders. She feared victims might be feeling shame even to the extent of feeling to self-harm.
“Cyber bullying can lead to feelings of shame and then self harm including committing suicide. The police and public must work together to have a good outcome.”
She lamented that it appears people are not listening to the advice from the police. “I would have also done a press release just as school closed. I begged parents: Be aware of your children, online and offline.
“Take away the tablet! When the children are going to bed, take away the tablet and keep it under your pillow. Hide it!”
She said while parents are sleeping, their children were going online and becoming vulnerable to predators.
“These vultures are out there just waiting for them you know.” –
With reporting by SEAN DOUGLAS