Defender of your Digital Freedom

All Posts | Oct 20,2020

Event – Creating Safe Spaces Online

SFLC.in in collaboration with Trust Law, Thompson Reuters Foundation is hosting a 2 day event on 'Creating Safe Spaces Online' on 21st-22nd of October 2020. The two day event will have a rountable, a panel as well as a Digital Security Training.

One of the newer threats to freedom of speech and expression and to creating a more inclusive economy, is the rising instances of harassment through online communications and on social media platforms, targeted especially at women. As an increasing number of organisations and individuals are moving their operations online in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, trolling, abuse, harassment, hate and smear campaigns are on the rise. Online harassment is also a threat to media and press freedom. This often leads to self-censorship and legitimate professionals being discredited. With newer forms and terminologies used to describe various instances of harassment online, there is a greater need to create awareness and build knowledge so that such instances can be appropriately identified and acted on or reported.

The panel on 21st October 2020 between 5:45PM -7:00PM IST aims to bring together NGOs and individuals working in the space of freedom of speech & expression and media/press freedom to share, learn and collaborate on various aspects of online harassment in India. Through this panel we aim to look for possible solutions to help with problems that have arisen out of our life's moving online due to COVID-19 especially that of women. Online harassment has proven to be a form of censorship and prevents netizens from practicing their right to free speech, especially for women and marginalized communities.

The panelists and the moderator are listed below -

Ms. Mishi Choudhary - Ms. Choudhary is a technology lawyer, licensed to practice in New York & India with a decade & a half of experience. She is the Legal Director of the New York based Software Freedom Law Center & the Founder of http://SFLC.IN. She will be the chair of the event and will be moderating the panel

Mr. Karti Chidambaram - Mr. Chidambaram is a Member of Parliament in the 17th Lok Sabha, representing the constituency of Sivaganga, Tamil Nadu. He is a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology. He is also a member of the All India Congress Committee (AICC).

Ms. Akhila Kolishetty - Ms. Kolishetty  is a Co-Director of End Cyber Abuse, a global collective of lawyers and human rights activists working to tackle technology-facilitated gender-based violence by raising awareness of rights, advocating for survivor-centered systems of justice, and advancing equitable design of technology to prevent gendered harms. Akhila is a lawyer, feminist policy advocate, and writer.

Ms. Bishakha Datta -  Ms. Datta is an Indian film maker, activist and a former journalist. She is the co-founder and executive director of Point of View, based in Mumbai, a non-profit working in the area of gender, sexuality and women's rights.

Ms. Trishna Kriplani - Ms. Kriplani is the Legal and Program Manager for South Asia at TrustLaw, Thomson Reuters Foundation. Her role includes a focus on building inclusive economies, trying to strengthen the role of business for change. At the foundation she does this by harnessing the power of law, media and building multi-stakeholder initiatives to influence systemic change. She has over a decade of experience in the legal and humanitarian sector. She is a qualified lawyer in India with a specialization in handling cases of corporate criminal liability.

The panel will be streamed live at https://youtu.be/TIzAAFwsiho

On the second day, that is on 22nd October, there will be a digital security training aimed at educating the partcipants on safe security practices online. The training is Hands-on and interactive. You can read more about the trainings at security.sflc.in. The training will be between 12-2PM

Participants can register for training at - http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/5912976/DST-TRAINING-SFLC.

You can contact us for more information at mail@sflc.in and for media queries at press@sflc.in

All Posts | Apr 12,2019

Blue Paper – Conference on Future of Tech Policy in India

We organised a Conference on 'Future of Tech Policy in India' on 15 March 2019 in Delhi. Over 150 people participated in the conference. Our report on Intermediary Liability 2.0 - A shifting Paradigm was launched during this conference.


A Blue Paper containing inputs received during this conference is available below. This document does not reflect the views of SFLC.in.


Brief agenda:

  • 09:30 AM to 10:00 AM: Registration

  • 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM: Session 1 - Misinformation and Intermediary Liability

  • 11:30 AM to 11:40 AM: Overview of the Report on ‘Intermediary Liability 2.0: A Shifting Paradigm’

  • 11:40 AM to 11:50 AM: Tea Break

  • 11:50 AM to 01:15 PM: Session 2 - The Role of Social Media in Elections

  • 01:15 PM to 02:00 PM: Lunch

  • 02:00 PM to 03:20 PM: Session 3 - Online Harassment

  • 03:20 PM to 03:30 PM: Tea Break

  • 03:30 PM to 03:50 PM: Lightning Talk on FreedomBox

  • 03:50 PM to 05:00 PM: Session 4 - The Future of Tech Policy

All Posts | Mar 07,2019

Conference on Future of Tech Policy in India

SFLC.in is organising a Conference on Future of Tech Policy in India on 15 March in New Delhi to discuss issues related to Rights on the Internet. Our report on ‘Intermediary Liability in India: The Legal Landscape and Notable Developments’ will be launched during this event.

Broad Agenda:

  • 09:30 AM to 10:00 AM - Registration

  • 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM - Session 1: Misinformation and Intermediary Liability + Report launch

  • 11:30 AM to 11:45 AM - Tea Break

  • 11:45 AM to 01:15 PM - Session 2: The Role of Social Media in Elections

  • 01:15 PM to 02:00 PM - Lunch Break

  • 02:00 PM to 03:15 PM - Session 3: Online Harassment

  • 03:15 PM to 03:30 PM - Tea Break

  • 03:30 PM to 05:00 PM - Session 4: The Future of Tech Policy

Context for the discussions:

Internet has emerged as a “critical infrastructure of our times”,[fn]Net Neutrality And Zero-Rating: Oral Testimony at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s hearing on Differential Pricing Practices Related To Internet Data Plans, November 4, 2016.[/fn] an ecosystem for democratic exchange of information, economic growth and evolution of new political culture. Due to the indispensability of Internet in our daily lives, the intertwined issues of fake news, online harassment, Internet shutdowns and the use of online platforms affect us deeply. Misinformation and online harassment often translate into grave physical violence. Most solutions to these have been reactionary and lack a well debated, planned and strategic approach. The Government has proposed the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2019, (Draft Rules) that threatens free speech and privacy rights by pushing intermediaries to take proactive steps to censor online content. A Draft National E-Commerce Policy released recently is being perceived a barrier to free flow of data across borders as it recommends data localization among other things. Self regulatory measures taken by technology companies in the form of Community Guidelines lack transparency and have not sufficiently addressed user concerns. Unsurprisingly, we have not yet arrived at a solution that can balance our rights with public security concerns.

A safe, inclusive, accessible and democratic Internet cannot become a reality unless the solutions are driven by a true mutli-stakeholder discussion. To collectively answer these questions and brainstorm ideas to inform the policy debate in tech policy, we invite you to our Conference on Future of Tech Policy in India, where we will be launching our report on ‘Intermediary Liability in India: The Legal Landscape and Notable Developments’.

We have recently organised discussions on Misinformation and Intermediary Liability in New Delhi (Jan 11, Jan 18, Feb 13), Bengaluru (Jan 15), Mumbai (Jan 16), Kochi (Jan 30) and Hyderabad (Feb 12). We have published a Blue Paper[fn]Available at https://sflc.in/blue-paper-misinformation-and-draft-intermediary-guidelines[/fn] containing comments, remarks and inputs received during the above-mentioned discussions.


Registration and participation are free of charge. Please RSVP at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/conference-on-future-of-tech-policy-in-india-tickets-57703767522

Please share this invitation with your friends, colleagues and anyone else that you believe might be interested in participating in the discussion.

All Posts | Sep 01,2018

Digital Security Training at Haiyya Camp, ‘Post. Don’t Rost’

Haiyya organised a Haiyya Camp, ‘Post. Don’t Rost’ on Sept 1st, 2018 to provide training on organizing skills to the participants so that they can take leadership and act on the issue of cyberbullying. As a knowledge partner to the event, SFLC.in conducted a session discussing issue of online harassment/ cyberbullying and various measures/ tools which can help in protecting privacy online.

All Posts | Aug 29,2018

Summary Report for Panel Discussion on Online Harassment at APrIGF2018

The 9th Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) convened from 13th to 16thAugust, 2018 at Iririki Island Resort, Port-Vila, Vanuatu with the overarching theme “Empowering Communities in Asia Pacific to build an Affordable, Inclusive, Open and Secure Internet”.

APrIGF is a multi-stakeholder platform for public policy discourse on Internet and its impact on society. Since 2010, this prime annual conference draws in discussions and incubates collaborations for the developments of universally affordable, accessible, non-discriminated, secure and sustainable Internet across the region. Discussion points from APrIGF are linked to the global Internet Governance Forum in the form of a Synthesis Document.

SFLC.in was represented by Tripti Jain (Counsel) at the conference who was selected to be an APrIGF fellow for 2018. She participated as a speaker in two sessions.

This is a summary post for the panel on online harassment titled “Responsibilities of Internet Platforms for Tackling Online Abuse Against Women & Other Marginalized Groups”

Dr. Monika Zalnieriute Zalnieriute (UNSW Sydney, Australia, Academia) was the organizer and moderator of the panel discussion. Other panelists were Shmyla Khan, (Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan, Civil society), Tess van Geelen (Queensland University of Technology, Australia, Academia), Shiwa Karmacharya, ( LOOM Nepal, Civil Society), Ankhi Das (Facebook in India and South & Central Asia) and Tripti Jain (SFLC.in, India, Civil Society).

Following are a few key points that were raised by the panelists:

  • Platforms should not undermine the obligations of platforms to tackle online abuse and violence against women;

  • Freedom of expression of some should not lead to censorship of others;

  • The recent report by UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye which addresses legitimate concerns around freedom of expression, while taking the rights of individuals and groups abused online; was discussed

  • Transparency is a necessary component for any effort to address and tackle online abuse against women and other discriminated groups.

The discussion began with Dr. Zalnieriute giving a brief overview about the issues concerning online harassment against women across the world and what are the obligations of platforms to tackle online abuse and violence.

Shmyla Khan (Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan), a remote presenter, discussed a few instances where content moderation/regulation by platforms and governments was rendered insufficient due to the nature and complexity of the harassment faced by women. She then mentioned a bit about the current moderation model. Shmyla finally highlighted the advantages and disadvantages of possible methods to balance free speech rights and protection from online harassment/abuse/hate speech.

Shiwa Karmacharya (LOOM in Nepal) talked about online violence in Nepal. She familiarized us with some background about the policies and the situation in Nepal, sharing the findings from a research she has been working on with 'EROTICS Nepal' (part of APC's EROTICS South Asia).

Tripti Jain (SFLC.in) discussed the situation of online violence against women in India, giving examples and citing a few instances, where women were attacked on different online platforms for voicing their opinions. Based on her research at SFLC.in. Tripti then highlighted how real world hate is manifested online. She then emphasized upon the issues/challenges while drafting robust legal responses to gender-based harassment online.

Tess Van Geelen from Queensland University of Technology in Australia explained human rights implications of online content moderation by private internet companies. She presented a PowerPoint presentation to share some recommendations from her empirical research at QUT, seeking to understand how platforms moderate harmful content in practice beyond online violence, including hate speech and terrorism.

Key Takeaways :

  1. There is a dire need to engage with platforms and have a serious dialogue, even if it is limited and constrained by the profit motivations and obligations of Internet corporations.

  2. We need to ensure that platforms maintain certain degree of transparency. Transparency is the first step in changing the secretive status quo of content moderation.

  3. Innovative thinking is needed from the Internet Governance community (among other communities, such as feminists, and LGBTQI community) to make sure that the situation does not remain the same.

  4. We as the Internet Governance community should be more participative and active in global consultation processes. We must collaborate and submit our comments to UN calls for submission on dealing with online harassment.

All Posts | Jun 01,2018

Open letter to messaging apps urging platform changes to protect users

We, along with other stakeholder organizations and individuals, are issuing an open letter urging Internet-based messaging service providers like WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal and others to make modifications to their platforms so users can no longer be added to group chats without express permission. Highlighting that the current implementation of group chats leave users vulnerable to large-scale harassment and privacy violations, the open letter urges messaging service providers on behalf of the multi-stakeholder community to take immediate corrective action. We call upon other organizations and members of civil society around the world to lend their names and support to this letter.




Chris Daniels

CEO, WhatsApp Inc.

1601 Willow Road

Menlo Park, California 94025

United States of America


Mark Zuckerberg

CEO, Facebook Inc.

1 Hacker Way

Menlo Park, California 94025

United States of America


Pavel Durov

CEO, Telegram Messenger LLP

71 – 75 Shelton Street

Covent Gardent, London

United Kingdom


Moxie Marlinspike

CEO, Signal Foundation

Ma Huateng

CEO, Tencent Holdings Ltd.

Tencent Building, Tower C

No.1081 Hongmei Road, Xuhui District

Shanghai, P.R. China


SUB: Concern over handling of group messages by online messaging services


As active users of your online messaging services, and also as members of the global multi-stakeholder community around Information and Communication Technologies, we are writing to express our concern regarding the handling of group messages by your services – specifically, the ability of any user with administrator rights to add any other user to a group without the latter’s express permission. In the absence of a mechanism to prevent themselves from being added to groups that they would not like to participate in, users have no option but to manually exit the groups. This is a troubling state of affairs because users may be forcefully exposed to a range of subjectively undesirable content that they would never have signed up for otherwise, which can be particularly damaging, especially in situations where malicious actors attempt to intimidate, disparage, harass or harm individuals in any way.

For instance, journalists and reporters writing/speaking about controversial topics like political misconduct often face constant harassment from those who seek to subdue criticism. On the Internet, organized troll-groups (and independent trolls) make concerted efforts to prevent engagement on such topics by any means necessary. This frequently involves attacking the journalists/reporters with content (like highly derogatory remarks and false statements) that is designed to break spirits and discredit work. In India, prominent journalists and reporters like Ravish Kumar, Arnab Goswami, Rana Ayyub, and Karuna John among many others have expressed that they face crippling levels of online hate and harassment on a regular basis.

The problem is equally relevant for non-public-personalities as well, especially those belonging to minority and otherwise vulnerable groups. A significant number of women report having been harassed online at some point in their lives, and cyber-bullying against children is on the rise. Members of ethnic/religious minorities are routinely attacked online, as is anyone holding what is perceived to be “unpopular” opinions.

While blocking malicious actors can usually help mitigate the damage to an extent, on online messaging services like yours, they are able to easily circumvent blocks by creating groups and adding their targets to these groups. The problem is only made worse from there as personal information like phone numbers, user IDs and photographs are shared with a large number of users, which opens the doors to even greater abuse. Considering that the Internet is believed to be an important enabler of free speech and open discourse, it is highly unfortunate that a design flaw with group messages is undermining this role of the Internet in a big way. Your services also violate individual privacy as personal information is shared amongst group members without consent. In addition, they fail to observe the “privacy by design” principle - “privacy as default setting” in particular – as they do not provide adequate safeguards to prevent infringement of user rights.

We therefore urge you to take immediate steps to address this issue, and implement measures to make it so that being added to group conversations without permission is no longer a possibility. Not only will this greatly help in limiting abusive uses of your services, but it will also make users less wary of using the services, making the Internet a safer space for us all. We hope you treat this matter with utmost urgency and take corrective measures at the earliest.


Software Freedom Law Centre, India

Digital Empowerment Foundation

Centre for Internet and Society

Society for Knowledge Commons

Prof. Rahul De, Hewlett-Packard Chair Professor in ICT for Sustainable Economic Development, IIM Bangalore

Faisal Farooqui, CEO, Mouthshut.com

Geeta Seshu, Independent Journalist

Hartosh Singh Bal, Political Editor, The Caravan

Abhinandan Sekhri, Co-Founder, Newslaundry


If you would like to add your name as a signatory, please fill in your details in the fields below. Alternatively, you can support the petition here.

All Posts | Sep 27,2017

Summary Report: Digital Citizen Summit, 2017 (September 21-22, 2017; New Delhi)

The second Digital Citizen Summit was organised on September 21-22, 2017 by Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) and Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. SFLC.in was an associate partner of the summit.

The summit aimed at finding solutions to bridge the digital divide, ways to ensure access to information, and creating a platform for participants to raise awareness about internet rights, digital literacy, and digital security. The sessions organised during the summit covered the broad themes of access, digital literacy and empowerment, privacy and freedom of expression.

We organised two sessions at the summit and participated as speakers in two others.

Sessions Organised:

  • Session on Internet Shutdowns (September 22nd, 12:00-13:00): This session was co-organised by Digital Empowerment Foundation and SFLC.in. The speakers for the session included Vaishali Verma (Counsel, SFLC.in), Ritu Srivastava (General Manager, Research and Advocacy, Digital Empowerment Foundation) and Sarath MS (Technologist, SFLC.in) with Prasanth Sugathan (Legal Director, SFLC.in) moderating the session.


    The session began with Sarath presenting the Internet shutdown tracker maintained by SFLC.in. Highlighting the steep rise in the number of shutdowns since 2012, he added that India has already witnessed 55 shutdowns in 2017, 1.7 times more than in 2016.

    Vaishali Verma began with emphasizing the need for Internet in the present era of digital India. Highlighting the three month long Internet ban in Darjeeling, she shared the experiences of the people including students, businessmen, and the locals, giving an insight into the problems faced by them due to the embargo. She further discussed the new rules for Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services in case of public emergency and public safety, issued by the Department of Telecommunications, and its shortcomings. Lastly, she underlined the economic losses faced by the country due to the Internet shutdowns.

    Ms. Ritu Srivastava dealt with the nature and psychological impact of Internet shutdowns. She gave several instances where Internet shutdowns had profound psychological impact on people of all ages. Finally, discussing about the transparency in the orders imposing shutdowns, Ritu criticised the lack of prior notifications from Internet Service Providers to the users before severing Internet services.

  • Session on Secure Communications (September 22nd, 14:00-15:00)This session was led by Sarath in association with Sukhbir Singh (TOR Developer) and focused on best practices to ensure privacy, security and anonymity in our online activities. Sarath discussed the prevalent state of surveillance in the country and its effect on the freedom of people. He further discussed various tools and applications for mobile phone that allow encrypted communications. He demonstrated one of these applications which provide for secure and encrypted text communications.


    Sukhbir elaborated upon the need for secure and private browsing in the surveillance-ridden world. He explained the principle behind the working of TOR browser and its advantages against other methods including VPNs.

Sessions Participated in:

  • Don’t let it stand: How do women deal with online abuse? Curbing the freedom of expression for women in digital spaces (September 21st, 12:00-13:00): This session was co-organised by Internet Democracy Project and Feminism in India. The session focused on the online abuse faced by women and marginalised community, its effect on people, gaps in the existing support systems- both legal and platform-based, and non-legal strategies to combat gender-based online harassment. SFLC.in was represented by Prasanth Sugathan and Vaishali Verma in this session.



  • Regulating search engines: Competition, free speech and human rights (September 22nd, 14:00-15:00): This session was organised by Centre for Communication Governance, National Law University, Delhi. The panel discussed the regulation of search engines, listing of search results, matters relating to competition amongst search engines in front of Competition Commission of India and the pending litigations in Supreme Court. Prasanth Sugathan from SFLC.in moderated this session.

All Posts | Aug 08,2017

Summary Report: Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum, 2017 (July 26-29th; Bangkok, Thailand)

The 8th Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) convened from 26th to 29th July, 2017 at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, with the objective ofEnsuring an inclusive and sustainable development in AsiaPacific: A regional agenda for internet governance”.

APrIGF is a multi-stakeholder platform for public policy on internet and its impact on society. Since 2010, this prime annual conference draws in discussions and incubates collaborations for the developments of universally affordable, accessible, non-discriminated, secure and sustainable internet across the region. Discussion points from APrIGF are linked to the global Internet Governance Forum in the form of a ‘Synthesis Document’.

This year, APrIGF saw participation from over 550 stakeholders from around the region in addition tothe 60 youth participants alongside at the Youth IGF. The broad topics covered during the sessions included access, empowerment, and diversity; cybersecurity, privacy, and safer Internet; digital economy and enabling innovation; and ensuring human rights online.

SFLC.in was represented by Prasanth Sugathan (Legal Director) and Vaishali Verma (Counsel) at the APrIGF. We organised two sessions at the forum and participated as speakers in two others.

Sessions Organized:

  • Merger 2-Understanding Solutions towards Online Harassment (July 26th, 2:30-3:30 PM):

    This session was co-organised by Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistanand SFLC.in, and followed the panel discussion format. The panelists for this session included Malavika Jayaram (Executive Director, Digital Asia Hub), Lisa Garcia (Gender Coordinator, Foundation for Media Alternatives), Shmyla Khan (Project Manager, Digital Rights Foundation) and Vaishali Verma (Counsel, SFLC.in). The session was moderated by Prasanth Sugathan.

    During the course of the session, Vaishali briefly spoke about the findings of the report prepared by SFLC.in, titled “Online Harassment: A Form of Censorship”, published in November 2016.The session further elaborated upon the practical challenges faced by the victims of online harassment, the efforts being made by various organisations to address these difficulties and the need to make this discussion mainstream.

    Video archive of this session can be accessed here and the transcript here.

  • WS 80- Algorithmic Transparency: Understanding why we are profiled in a certain manner (July 29th, 9:00-10:30 AM)

    This session aimed at understanding the importance of disclosure of algorithms, leading to an increase in privacy awareness through openness and transparency. The panelist for this session were Dr. Virgil Griffith (Scientist, Ethereum Foundation), Arthit Suriyawongkul (Digital Culture and Internet Policy Researcher, Foundation for Internet and Civic Culture), Rajat Kumar (Program Manager -Digital Transformation, Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit), Jyoti Pandey (Senior Policy Analyst, Electronic Frontier Foundation), and Vaishali Verma (Counsel, SFLC.in). The session was moderated by Prasanth Sugathan.

    The panelist deliberated upon the need for transparency in algorithms and the effect it would have upon the privacy of the individuals. It was acknowledged that disclosure of algorithms would lead to an increased awareness of privacy amongst the stakeholders. The session delved into the liability assessments in case of malfunction of an algorithm. The panel further discussed the possible ways to facilitate disclosure of algorithms while also balancing the commercial interest with the public interest at the same time.

    The video archive of this session is available here and the transcript here.

Sessions Participated in:

  • Merger 1- Publicness and the Right to be Forgotten: the Debates Begin (July 28th, 11:00-12:30 PM)

    This session was co-organised by Open Net Korea and American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative. The panel discussed the question of right to be forgotten from the perspective of the visibility of public information, which falls under the realm of the freedom of expression and the right to know, instead of seeing it solely in the context of privacy. Prasanth Sugathan participated in this session on behalf of SFLC.in.

    Official video archive of this session can be accessed here and the transcript here.

  • WS 94 – Engaging with the #KeepItOn Movement: Fighting Internet Shutdowns (July 29th, 11:00-12:30 PM)

    This session was organised by Access Now and reflected on the planned outcomes and developments from the #KeepItOn member organisations. The panelists discussed the status of disruptions and internet shutdowns in Asia-Pacific over the first half of 2017 and explored the opportunities for possible collaborations and initiatives in the region. SFLC.in was represented by Vaishali Verma in this session, who also spoke about the Internet shutdowns trackermaintained by SFLC.in.

    The video archive of this session is available here and the transcript here.

All Posts | Dec 03,2016

Press release: Report on ‘Online Harassment: A form of Censorship’

Mindless abuse and threats of violence are commonplace on online speech platforms like social media websites nowadays, says a new report titled, ‘Online Harassment: A Form of Censorship’, by SFLC.IN, a Delhi-based not-for-profit legal services organization.

Greater transparency and responsiveness in content moderation processes adopted by such platforms, along with renewed focus on capacity building for law enforcement agents could go a long way towards addressing the issue, finds the report. Attention should also be paid to educating people about existing mechanisms for combating online harassment, the report adds.

“There is a need for adequate legal protections against online harassment. However, this should not be seen under any circumstance as an endorsement of draconian laws like the now-repealed Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act), which lent itself to wanton abuse due to its over-broad and ambiguous language”, said Baijayant Panda, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha, also one the interviewees featured in the report.

Free speech should not be restrained, unless it is transcending from talk to action: MP Baijayant Panda at SFLC.IN report launch.

Delivering the keynote address at the report launch, Mr Panda said, “Speech itself should not be restrained or shut down forcibly unless there is imminent clear and present danger of violence, or break down of public order.”

At the same time, there must be harmony between the laws that impact us in real lifeand those that impact us online. Online world can be liberating but if someone is threatening you, they should notbe able to get away with it by claiming free speech protections, he said.

The report is supported by the Software Freedom Law Center, New York and Jigsaw, a New York based think tank, and features dialogues with key stakeholders, including social media platforms and 18 prominent individuals involved in the debate around online hate speech and harassment.

The individuals interviewed for the report include legislators, journalists, civil society actors and targets of online harassment campaigns, who have had first hand glimpses at the plight of the harassed. The list of individual interviewed is provided in Editor’s notes below.Talking about the report, Mishi Choudhary, Executive Director at SFLC.IN said, “We have been studying online harassment as form of censorship that forces people out of participation in online policy discourses. This report’s goal is to explore this phenomenon in detail, document how people experience the effects of harassment in their lives as we work towards finding a workable and understandable ways to address the problem.”

“Online platforms presently suffer from lack of trust when it comes to guaranteeing users’ safety, and the significant levels of human intervention in content moderation further dilutes this trust as it involves personal biases”, noted Arvind Gupta, National Head, Information and Technology, BJP – another one of the report’s interviewees. “As we move towards digital democracy, it is absolutely critical for platforms to stay neutral. Platforms need to build a system of trust and non partisanship by heeding user feedback and implementing broad-based changes to their content moderation practices on the basis of this feedback”, he said.

Calling human intervention as of ‘paramount importance’ in maintaining civility on platforms, Chetan Krishnaswamy, Country Head, Public Policy, Google India said, “Considering the volume of content being generated, technology tools are at times necessary in content moderation. However, human involvement is still required to sift through the content and determine what is right and what is wrong.”

Dr. Anja Kovacs, Director of Internet Democracy Project, said that more law was not the solution to tackling the issue of online harassment. “I think it’s really important to not have the same standard for all intermediaries. Even though in this debate of Facebook versus Twitter, Facebook is often seen as the more safe platform but many activists still prefer Twitter because it allows anonymity.”

Representing that element of the state that enforces‘reasonable restrictions’ on freedom of expression, Anyesh Roy – Deputy Commissioner of Delhi Police (Cyber Crime) said,“We often face jurisdiction issues with platforms; who sometimes refuse to share information. All platforms with consumers in India should respect the law of the land and share information when requested by the law enforcement.” He also talked about the need to evolve an “entire ecosystem and mechanisms within the intermediaries where grievances are addressed and everybody is able to enjoy their freedom of expression.”

Mahima Kaul, Head of Public Policy, Twitter India, talked about the policy changes introduced by Twitter last week where people can mute certain phrases or conversations. “This is indicative of how seriously Twitter addresses the issue of harassment and has a policy against hateful conduct.”

Saikat Datta, Cyber Security Consultant and Consulting Editor at Scroll.in, said,“If there is a certain amount of ugliness that reflects on social media platforms, we should be able to recognize the horrors of society and take action upon them.” Saikat added how ‘privacy’ should be a fundamental right as it has huge implications on, among other things, free speech.

The report suggests the following safeguards to social media users against online harassment and abuse:

  • Thoroughly screen the personal information shared online
  • Consider dedicating an email-ID for social media use
  • Avoid uploading photos that identify you along with your location to protect your identity
  • Use a pseudonym, if anonymity is relevant in your online activities
  • Keep a tab on information others post about you to ensure no personally identifiable information reaches unwanted hands
  • Run Internet searches on yourself to monitor unauthorized information appearing online
  • Use stronger passwords, and review your service providers’ privacy policies

The report further recommends the following steps to be taken in cases where users find themselves at the receiving end of targeted online harassment campaigns:

  • Report incidents to the concerned service providers
  • Block the perpetrators, when the perpetrators are limited in number
  • Approach law enforcement as a last resort, when there are real threats to physical safety
  • Seek help from social media influencers
  • Record all communications with perpetrators, service providers and law enforcement
  • Seek support from friends and family

For platforms like Facebook and Twitter, the report suggests the set of following 11 draft best practices to limit online harassment, with the express condition that these proposals require substantial deliberations before being formalized:

  1. Have in place rules that prohibit hateful, disparaging, and harassing content on intermediary networks; rules must be clearly articulated and designed for easy consumption; include illustrative examples for each category of prohibited content
  2. Generate awareness within user community on prohibited content; notification systems, promotional banners etc. could be leveraged for the purpose
  3. Enable easy and accurate reportage by users and third-parties; include easily identifiable “report” buttons; provide adequate opportunities to substantiate why content must be removed
  4. Have clearly defined review processes prescribing (where possible) objective standards for determining permissibility; refer to applicable national laws
  5. Deploy dedicated teams to review and disable content; provide periodic training to review teams on efficient identification and disablement;
  6. Review reports and disable content within a prescribed time frame (24/48/76 hours)
  7. Provide opportunities to creators of disabled content to justify themselves; include 
provisions for timely restoration of disabled content and reinstation of terminated accounts
  8. Share best practices within stakeholder community; contribute to building effective multi- stakeholder norms for tackling prohibited content
  9. Liaise with law enforcement; aid in investigation of reported offenses in consonance with established legal procedures
  10. Work with other stakeholder communities; engage with civil society organizations and academia on awareness generation; conduct trainings/workshops for law enforcement officials on reportage mechanisms so as to facilitate effective handling of complaints
  11. Promote counter-speech; invite counter narratives from public figures; offer incentives; conceptualize additional means to promote counter-speech

“This is but the first in a series of studies that SFLC.in intends to undertake in this domain. We invite people to join us as we attempt to build a sustainable dialogue around online harassment, as participatory and result-oriented initiatives are required to arrive at a definitive solution,” Ms. Choudhary added.


Editor’s Notes

The list of interviewees for the ‘Online Harassment: A Form of Censorship’ report is below (in alphabetical order):

  1. Abhinandan Sekhri, Co-founder, NewsLaundry
  2. Arvind Gupta, National Head, Information and Technology, BJP
  3. Baijayant Panda, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha
  4. Bishakha Datta; Executive Director, Point of View
  5. Hartosh Singh Bal; Political Editor, The Caravan
  6. Inji Pennu; Writer, activist
  7. Karuna John; Freelance journalist
  8. Kavita Krishnan; Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Commission
  9. Meena Kandasamy; Poet, writer, activist
  10. Navrang S B; Former Head of Social Media, BJP
  11. PrabirPurkayastha; Editor, Newsclick
  12. Rajeev Chandrasekhar; Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha
  13. Rakshit Tandon; Cyber Security Expert and Consultant
  14. Ravish Kumar; News Anchor, NDTV India
  15. Rega Jha; Editor, BuzzFeed India
  16. Rohit Chopra; Associate Professor, Santa Clara University
  17. Saikat Datta; Journalist
  18. Sheeba Aslam; Journalist, scholar and Islamic writer

A copy of the report can be accessed here.