Cyberbullying and online character assassination have emerged as an alarming trend in recent times, especially against women, as victims and accused in many sensational incidents are routinely abused by a section of netizens.
Rights activists and online monitoring authorities said that there were hostile online campaigns in many cases where main issues got sidelined and people were bullied for their gender, attire, posture and lifestyle.
A section of social media users post distasteful and obscene comments and also drag people’s personal life, family life onto social media platforms.
Bullying turns worse particularly when victims or accused are female, said rights activist and jurist Jyotirmoy Barua.
He told New Age that due to lack of monitoring and online vigilance, cyberbullying incidents continued unabated and went unpunished.
In the latest incident, Lupa Talukder, who was arrested on charge of abducting a child, has been facing a hostile character assassination campaign.
Unrelated of charges against her, a section of netizens are posting disgraceful comments against her attires on Facebook.
Cyberbullying recently came in focus with Shipra Debnath, a student of Stamford University and a crew member of slain ex-army major Sinha Mohammad Rashed Khan, allegedly falling victim to cyberbullying, even from some senior police officials.
Images of her private moments emerged on social media and were widely shared where she was slapped with objectionable remarks by a section of netizens.
Shipra tried to file cases against some people, including two senior police officers under the Digital Security Act over the cyberbullying incident, but Cox’s Bazar sadar police declined to register her case.
Rights activists alleged that law enforcement agencies were showing prejudiced attitude in taking actions over cybercrime issues.
Police act proactively when DSA cases are filed against people for allegedly criticising ruling party men. They even arrest accused in the middle of the night, said Jyotirmoy.
But if the accused turn out to be ruling party men or government officials, police become reluctant in taking actions against them, he said.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police deputy commissioner for the cybercrime prevention department AFM AL Kibria, however, brushed aside the allegation saying that police didn’t act with political prejudice, rather within the frame of law.
The Criminal Investigation of Department’s cyber monitoring special superintendent Rezaul Masud told New Age that they mainly monitored and took actions on anti-state, anti-government issues, fake online news and posts that might inflame religious unrest.
If anyone files complaint of cyberbulling, the CID investigates the incident and takes action, he added.
Rezaul said that they usually received 60-70 complaints daily about cybercrime-related issues.
Police cybercrime monitoring officials said that a section of netizens often made sexist, offensive and obscene posts and remarks citing the victims’ gender, gesture, posture, attire, appearance and profession.
A woman named Farhana Afroz, in another case, faced storms of cyberbullying, including offensive posts from a section netizens, as her image emerged on Facebook where she was leading a motorcade of her friends to celebrate her wedding programme in Jashore town.
Farhana told New Age that she was facing cyberbullying as many were making abusive and offensive remarks on her photos saying that these gesture, attire and attempt were anti-religion.
‘I wanted to celebrate my wedding in a different manner, but it ended up being victim of cyberbullying,’ she said.
Nusrat Jahan Rafi, an alim examinee in Feni, had met Sonagazi police station officer-in-charge with complaint of sexual assaults on her by her madrassah principal in March last year.
OC Moazzem Hossain secretly recorded her statements and circulated them online later, an offence under the Digital Security Act.
Nusrat was set on fire on April 6 that year for refusing to withdraw a sexual assault case filed against principal Siraj Ud Doula.
After fighting for her life for five days, she died at Dhaka Medical College Hospital on April 10.
Seeking justice for herself, she was once again victimised with cyberbullying, even from law enforcement official.
The police officer, however, was arrested later and jailed for eight years under the DSA.
In another sensational incident, Rifat Sharif, 25, an internet service provider, was hacked to death in broad daylight in Barguna town on June 26, 2019 in front of his wife Ayesha Siddika Minni.
In the CCTV footage of the incident, Minni was seen screaming and trying to save her husband from the attackers.
Later police investigators claimed that Minni was involved in the murder incident and she was arrested.
Soon after police said so, a section of netizens embarked on the character assassination of Minni.
She was then trolled and made victim of cyberbullying for her alleged former affair while some fake obscene video footage were leaked online claiming that those were of Minni’s.
Police, however, were reluctant to trace the Facebook accounts involved in cyberbullying.
In another recent incident, JKG Health Care chairperson Sabrina Arif Chowdhury was arrested on charge forging COVID-19 test reports.
Soon after she was arrested on July 12, a section of netizens started sexist posting against her mentioning her attire, gesture, appearance and so-called affairs.
DMP cybercrime department’s Kibria said that they tried to detect accounts that were involved in cyberbullying and take actions in some instances, but the law itself could not prevent all such incidents.
All the charges are not cognizable, so police cannot take actions on their own without charges in every case, he said.
Awareness among netizens can improve the situation, the officer added.
In a very grave incident recently, offensive comments were made about a picture of Bangladesh National Team all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan’s minor daughter.
Shakib’s daughter’s picture was posted on Facebook where the girl was standing in a field of sunflowers with a smile on her face and flower in her hair.
Some Facebook users, however, posted offensive and obscene comments below the picture.
After seeing the objectionable comments, Shakib and his wife Umme Ahmed Shishir removed the picture from their Facebook page.
Dhaka university professor and criminologist Nehal Karim emphasized digital literacy to improve the situation.
He, however, blamed that there was no concrete policy and proper monitoring from law enforcement authorities to stop cyberbullying, especially when it was about victims of some incidents.
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