About three years ago on a morning like any other morning, the 7am news broadcast of BBC World Service had just started. Among other headlines, the news presenter announced that in an interval of six weeks, another K-Pop singer had committed suicide. She was a victim of cyber bullying.
K-Pop has worldwide fame. All the mainstream media was flooded with the news of this celebrity committing suicide. The arrow of accusation pointed towards her ex-boyfriend. He was allegedly threatening to demolish her career by leaking her intimate videos online. Police even found CCTV-footage where the singer was seen on her knees, pleading with the man.
Seoul is 3,783 km away from Dhaka. But, incidents of similar nature are occurring in Bangladesh as well. Even common women and children are vulnerable on the web, let alone celebrities. Just last July, a girl of Class Six who had been molested, committed suicide at her own residence in capital’s Basabo area.
Even in this country, female celebrities are being harassed by their personal videos being leaked. Some really struggle to shrug off the scandal and stigma.
Men too are victims of such acts.
What is cyber bullying?
Technically, cyber bullying is the term used for various types of harassment in the virtual world.
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has given a definition of cyber bullying. They said bullying with the use of digital technology is called cyber bullying. And, it can take place on social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms and mobile phones. Bullies usually scare, anger or shame a targeted person.
Repeated behaviour such as spreading lies against someone, sending embarrassing photos or posting video clips, sending abusive or threatening messages or images despite being aware that they can get hurt, sending mean messages to others impersonate someone, and spreading foul content opening fake accounts in others’ names fall under cyber bullying.
Dhruba Joetirmoya Gope, assistant commissioner, cybercrime investigation unit of the police said, the range of cyber bullying is quite extensive. There is harassment by spreading intimate images or sexual harassments. In addition to that, many newer components have been introduced as well.
This police official informed that people are now being harassed using memes that were once created merely for fun. Not only humans, large organisations can also fall prey to cyber bullying. And company importing a renowned motorcycle brand recently filed a case after being bullied online. People they trusted with their brand promotion earlier spread defaming statements about the officials of that company, once their contracts with the company expired. Allegedly they did this out of spite, being unable to purchase motorcycles at a discounted prices from the company.
Yet, women are the prime victims of cyber bullying in most cases.
Obscene photos and discussions on Messenger
A student of a prominent private university in the capital confirmed being a victim of cyber bullying on several occasion. She shared, once when she was in her freshmen year, she was stunned upon opening her Messenger inbox. A man had sent her an image of his genitalia.
Failing to comprehend from whom she can get a solution to this, that woman withdrew herself from the social media. She deactivated her Facebook account as well as replaced the SIM card from her phone.
At least three more women informed of going through similar experiences. In July last year, a student of Computer Sciences and Engineering (CSE) department of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) and two of his accomplices were accused of sending offensive photographs in Messenger inbox and spreading them online later. BUET students formed strong protest against them at the time. Victims of similar incidents informed that they had to face such situations only for refusing romantic or obscene advances or avoiding them. Sometimes these explicit images are sent through fake accounts too.
A woman lodged a case with Dhaka’s Bhashantek Police Station on 15 March. She said, her daughter had ordered food online. After some time, the delivery guy namely Rokon Mia called her daughter and informed that he won’t be delivering her food as there was too much traffic on the road. Her daughter was upset about it and raged at that man a bit.
Since that evening unwanted calls started pouring in her phone. They used objectionable language against her and gave her illicit proposals over phone. After that, marriage proposals started coming in. Later, the victim’s family found out that her number along with a groom wanted notice was spread from a Facebook account named ‘Alor Pothe’.
During investigation police found that Rokon Mia and his associates had a gang that takes distasteful snaps of women and prompts vulgar conversations online.
There are pages called ‘crush and confession’, created just for fun based on university, college or district, running actively on social media. Members of such group give brief description along with pictures of people they were attracted towards on roads by chance. Many people are also facing cyber bullying through these.
Just as there are incidents of harassing a single women there are incidents of harassment against a group of women. Just take last Saturday as example. A video clip of AIUB Inter College Woman’s Cricket Tournament has been circulating on social media since then. In that video a woman was seen bowling, where the wicket doesn’t fall apart despite being hit by the ball. The comment box of that video was flooded with negative comments aimed at the women.
There are innumerable records of attacking celebrities in groups using vulgar language. Popular actress Azmeri Haque Badhon raised her voice against harassment. Recently, in a programme she talked about the violence she had to endure. Excluding one or two exceptions, all the comments below that programme’s link were either offensive or negative.
More female victims, but males are there too
Police Cyber Support for Women was launched in November of 2020. A total of 17,280 women contacted the unit on the first year. All of them were victims of cyber bullying in one or other way. Last year, Cyber Crime Investigation division worked with more than 900 cases in Dhaka. According to their records, the ratio of male and female victims of cyber bullying is the same. However, women are more susceptible to become victims of ‘sextortion’ (blackmailing with intimate photographs or videos).
Police statistics says, the number of male victims in cases of leaking intimate images or videos being unable to extort money, was only 23. On the contrary the number of female victims in such cases stood at 100, which is more than four times higher in comparison. Meanwhile, 49 male and 100 female became victims of cyber bullying through fake accounts.
However, more men were prey of social account hacking. Even, in cases of mobile banking fraud, men were victimised more than women.
What is the way out?
Bollywood star Katrina Kaif got married recently. Her ex-boyfriends literally competed against each other to present her with exclusive gifts on the occasion. Many women commented on Facebook regarding that. One of them wrote, now a days ex-boyfriends in this country release intimate video clips on the web as wedding gifts.
Khandaker Farzana Rahman, chair of criminology department, Dhaka University, emphasised on family’s role in preventing cyber bullying. She said, first of all it is essential to give sex education to children. That way they will learn to behave respectfully towards the opposite gender.
* This column appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir