BOIS LOCKER ROOM: RETRIBUTION V. ACCOUNTABILITY
Updated: Jul 29
[Authored by Charvi Devprakash, 1st year B.B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) at Faculty of Law, PES University, Bangalore.]
With the usage of social media skyrocketing at a tremendous speed, social media no longer remains just a medium of connecting loved ones across the globe. It has become a platform to raise concerns, voice out opinions, generate revenue, build a customer base for businesses, and much more. On one hand, where social media has given so much to its users, some users also face its worst horrors on social media. The advent of this presses the need for a safer space on these platforms for its users. From hate speech to child pornography and nudity, there is a lack of sufficient guidelines or laws that govern the type of content that goes out on social media. Off late, there have been many instances across the globe on social media, that put these platforms on the brink of a crisis, if not attended to immediately. Instances such as the Bois (sic) locker room’, ‘cyber defamation leading to the death of a 17-year-old’, ‘Me too movement’ and the ‘Snapchat screenshot’ has caused a sudden outrage on social media by its netizens. With such heated discussion all over social media, there also comes the need to administer and filter out the type of content. Instances such as these lead one to question the responsibility of social media in cases where objectionable content has been a part.
The Bois (sic) Locker Room Explained
To throw special light on one such sensational instances is the ‘Bois (sic) locker room’ (hereinafter referred to as Boys locker room) incident. In Delhi, India, a group of school-going teenage boys indulged themselves in an Instagram group called the ‘Boys locker room’ that promoted the much controversial ‘locker room culture’. Locker room culture can be explained as the types of behavior of people, that reeks of male domination, everyday misogyny, casual rape culture, sexist, racist and homophobic slurs that are under the veil of ‘casual banter’. Such behaviour is usually promoted in locker rooms as the same would never be condoned in a civilized society.
The infamous Instagram ‘Boys Locker room’ consisted of young impressionable minds who were making derogatory and defamatory remarks on minor girls by sharing their pictures without consent. This incident is prima facie, a manifestation of the everyday misogyny and normalization of rape culture and other forms of violence against women in today’s times. This sure should be a wake-up call for all of us!
Soon enough the screenshots of these conversations were leaked, and the boys indulged in this culture were also called out. Followed by this was the social media outrage, women and men were furious and disgusted with this culture, later on, were the rape threats, and privacy threats by these young boys to those who leaked the doings of this infamous group.
Sexual harassment need not necessarily be physical in nature. It is a broad term, consisting of many types of unwelcome verbal and physical sexual attention. By verbal sexual harassment, one means lewd sexist jokes, misogynistic remarks and chauvinistic stereotyping about one’s physical appearance, capabilities, reducing it all to a mere gender. The same had also been called out many times during the #Metoo movement. However, it is now evident, that the hanging of the Nirbhaya convicts, the encounter of the accused in Priyanka Reddy case, or even the social media outrage during the #Metoo movement has still not been able to root out the normalization of violence and discrimination against women.
Back to the Locker room case, soon enough the Delhi Police and the Delhi Commission for women took charge and all of them who were associated with the group were taken into custody and interrogated. An incident such as this once again reminds us all that “accountability is the best deterrent’. Though the first reaction to such crimes is victim-blaming and shaming and the demand for retribution against the perpetrators, only accountability can cure such deep-rooted male fragility.
When one demands for accountability, it also involves accountability of social media in such cases. It makes us question, what is acceptable on social media. What amounts to cyber bullying and cyber defamation? What amounts to ‘objectionable content’? and ‘What qualifies as a derogatory remark?’ With so many questions, it is only fair to investigate social media accountability.
Social Media Accountability
As we see, many social media platforms, especially Instagram, are striving every day to achieve a safe space for its users online, by its efficient implementation of the community guidelines. They are adding a new feature on a daily basis, where its users could report or delete the lewd comments or block such users. Recently, Instagram has also stood up against cyberbullying, where it will automatically delete such comments, without requiring the owner of the post to report. To speak of it legally, going by the Information Technology Act 2000, hereinafter referred to as IT Act 2000, social media platforms are called intermediaries. The social media platforms, which facilitate the publication of user-generated content, as well as the internet service providers (“ISPs”) are known as intermediaries, as defined under the Information Technology Act, 2000 (“IT Act”).
Social media platforms are not held accountable whatsoever for the user-generated content. As the name suggests, it is just a mere intermediary that connects people across the globe on one universal platform. This is known as the ‘safe harbor provision’ that helps these platforms secure their position. However, in order to maintain a certain level of decorum online, every social media platform comes up with their own terms and conditions, that need to be agreed upon by its customers, before becoming a user. They also have their own set of ‘community guidelines’ that must be adhered to, by all the users, non-adherence of which could also go up to the deactivation of the account. One of the many clauses in the T&C also prohibits content that is “obscene, pornographic, libelous, invasive of other’s privacy”,  or“harm minors in any way” Until and unless the objectionable content has brought to the ‘actual knowledge’ of the platform, the platform is not obligated in any way whatsoever to take action against such content. Even after reporting from the users, the intermediaries are only obligated to act upon it if a government agency or body serves a notice regarding the same. The intermediaries are also obligated to preserve such sensitive information for up to 90 days for the purpose of the investigation by the respective government bodies. However, Instagram takes immediate action upon reporting by its users and either deletes the post or the account. These are a few laws of the IT Act 2000 that outline the responsibility of social media platforms in cases where objectionable content has been posted.
Apart from this, a victim of cyber defamation, cyberbullying, or cybercrime can also opt for certain provisions in the IPC 1860 and IT Act 2000. Sec 354A and 354D of the IPC provides punishment for cyberbullying and cyberstalking of women. The POCSO Act 2012 was enacted to provide a speedy legal remedy for the protection of children (minors) from sexual offenses. In addition to this, Sec 499, 503, 507, and 509 of the IPC also advocate for women’s safety and Sec 66C, 66E, 67, 67 A and 67B of the IT Act 2000 also provides relief to women suffering cyber crimes.
Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India, 1950 states “All citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. However Article 19 (2) of the same states that “Nothing in sub-clause, (a) of clause ( 1 ) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offense”. Anybody who intends to harm the reputation of another person and deliberately acts upon it causing the loss of another person is said to have defamed the other person, notwithstanding the truthfulness of the defamatory statement. The same rule is also applied when we talk about content online. With millions of users and humongous amounts of content being generated every moment, it gets very difficult for these platforms to maintain a level of decorum and attend to every query and filter out content. However, the intermediaries would be considered to have ‘actual knowledge’ upon receipt of a notice by an appropriate government agency, or court order.  When the users report any content, the platform’s decision to act upon it is subjected to its policy, user agreement and community guidelines. Due to lack of definitive laws, it becomes tedious to prevent such platforms from becoming a virtual ‘locker room’.
Recently, a solution to the same was proposed which was subjected to much criticism on the grounds of abrogation of freedom of speech and expression. The Ministry of Electronics and Technology in 2018 proposed certain amendments to the Information Technology Rules, 2011. The proposed Rule 3(9) required the social media platforms to deploy “automated tools … to proactively identify, remove, or disable public access to unlawful information and content.” . Despite this, it has been held that social media platforms need to implement measures like ‘content filters’ to ensure the prevention of obscenity, any sort of pornography, nudity, etc.
As mentioned earlier, this incident acts as a reflection to us all to review the position of the judiciary in such cases and take lessons from the same to implement more stringent laws in place that outlines the responsibility of social media in such cases. The community standards and the newly written guidelines can prescribe or make mandatory the use of artificial intelligence to flag at content related to, inter alia, sexual harassment, discrimination against gender or a weaker sector of the society, posts promoting rape culture, animal abuse, the publication of obscene and pornographic content, and any material that might have a detrimental effect on young impressionable minds. Furthermore, it can also be suggested to create an agency that looks into such red-flagged content and take calls on the future course of action. Application of such measures or standards can also be extended across platforms like WhatsApp, Tinder/Bumble, Facebook and many more apart from Instagram and Twitter.
Day in and day out one experiences an increased number of hate crimes, revenge porn, morphed images, privacy threats and rape threats on social media. Such instances have also been normalised in the cyberspace with the victims suffering in silence and fearing their perpetrator’s actions. Therefore, it is high time one stands up against such forms of crimes in the world of social media. Effective tools need to be implemented to minimize such crimes. Despite the fact that the victim can approach the police anytime, it is often avoided for the fear of society. It is of paramount importance to understand and find an even ground between freedom of speech and expression and protecting the interests of the social media users, popularly known as netizens. However, if the right measures and technological advancements, both on the part of government agencies as well as the intermediaries go hand in hand, instances like the Boy's locker room can be alleviated.
Section 2(1)(w), Information and Technology Act, 2000.
 Rule 3(2)(b), Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011.
 Rule 3(2)(c), Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, 2011.
 Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, (2015) 5 SCC 1.
 Draft Rule 3(9), Information Technology [(Intermediary Guidelines) Amendment] Rules, 2018.
 Avnish Bajaj v. State, 150 (2008) DLT 769.
[Image credits: Economic Times]