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Chennai City Police Arrests Two Over Harassment On Twitter

The Chennai City Police have arrested and detained two people for harassing singer Chinmayi Sripada on Twitter, reports The Hindu. According to the report, the city police arrested a National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) professor and have detained another person, working at the Tirupur Collectorate. The report also states that police is on the lookout for three more Twitter users. The twitter accounts mentioned in her complaint were –  @senthilchn, @RajanLeaks, @asharavkay, @losongelesram, @vivajial and @thyirvadai.

The singer had lodged a complaint on October 18, stating that few individuals on Twitter, the social networking site, were tweeting about her and her mother, and making vulgar remarks. About two years ago, few individuals tweeted to the singer regarding a fishermen’s issue (related to Sri Lankan Tamils) to which she did not pay heed. Soon after, there were vulgar comments about many top leaders in the conversation threads. Another report (by NDTV) mentions that Sripada feared that the tweets could endanger her life. Following the complaint, a case was registered under section 66-A of the Information Technology Act and Section 4 of Prevention of Women Harassment Act. Police identified the individuals from their twitter handles and after tracing them via their IP addresses, arrested the individuals on Monday.

Other developments: Previously, Chandigarh’s Henna Bakshi and Kamalpreet Singh were booked under the IT Act for posting abusive messages on  the Union Territory traffic police’s Facebook page. Under the IT act, the charges levelled against her are non-bailable and she could be seen serving a jail time of three years. On August 15, Bakshi posted abusive comments on the Union Territory traffic police’s Facebook page after the police failed to address her complaint about the theft of her car, which was stolen on August 11.

Freedom of Speech vs Abuse (Anupam adds:) : This case could set a precedent when it comes to determining how police and legal action can be taken against abusive trolls. While some may argue that everyone has the right to free speech, it must be realised that there’s a line between abusive comments and personal attacks, and humour, satire and counter-arguments. While defamation laws on libel and slander also apply to social networks, as they’re in a way a public medium (ITC had filed a defamation suit against Suhel Seth), when someone’s dragging you into a political issue, risking your online/offline presence or is abusing you, the only way to deal with it would have been to report it to the web platform or to be ignorant about it. Journalists like Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghose, and Barkha Dutt are often targeted. So, online abuse must be dealt in a manner similar to how abuse is dealt with in the physical world.

With Chinmayi approaching the Police, and action being taken following her complaint, this might deter notorious twitter users from making abusive comments. Yes, there’s always the ‘my account was hacked’ defence, but then platforms like Facebook and Twitter will need to coordinate with the authorities to verify it. Interestingly, the home ministry and IT department were also reportedly working on softening the IT Act with graded responses for cyber crimes involving teens and first-time offenders.

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