According to the reports maintained by Nepal Police, the cases of violence against women, children and senior citizens are on spike during the second wave lockdown period. The domestic violence was visibly high during the first wave with many reported cases of Violence Against Women (VAW), and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) among others. This trend of “Shadow Pandemic” also became a major social issue during the lockdown of the second wave. There was a total of 4,448 cases of violence against women, children and senior citizen during the lockdown period of Chaitra 11 to Shrawan 10. While many of the domestic violence cases get lost in the way of reporting, and many fear to come out, the rate is still visibly high in all the provinces. According to the recent study done by WOREC Nepal, many women do not report the cases of violence against them due to reasons like less or no access to legal services, social stigma and discrimination.
Among the many issues reported, few were highlighted in news media and social media like Rupa Sunar’s house-rent case, Indigenous Raute women case and a supposedly suicide case of a newly married woman. These cases are different in nature from one another as the house rent case represented the caste discrimination which is still subtly present in Nepali society, whereas the latter two cases showed the violence against women in different scenarios. However, one thing in common amongst all three cases were the social media and public attention they got which brought forth negativity in the society and in the lives of people involved. While both men and women are the victims of online violence, the majority of the victims are women.
Social Media’s Negative Influence in the cases of Gender and Social Inclusion
The popularity and reach of social media is increasing each day with the increase in access of technology among people but many channels and resources in social media are not an authorized media source. The internet and social media has given freedom to express one’s thoughts, views, opinions and experience, but the social media has brought upon a stream of fake news and personal attacks. A recent survey has found that most internet users in Nepal receive fake and opinionated remarks that are taken as news. In the above mentioned three cases too hundreds of videos and news content were uploaded in social media like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter which were mainly misguiding and manipulative information breaching the privacy of the survivors and their family.
The highlighted and viral cases receive wide range of remarks and opinions from the general public, which has even led to harassment of the people involved. Like in the case of Indigenous Raute Women, their privacy was abused as their photos and videos were posted all over the social media without their consent. Many fake and unauthorized news were published and circulated in the social media while compromising the independent lives of the tribe. Also, in the house rent case, the news pattern and unauthorized remarks brought personal attacks to both parties involved. This case also ignited the social and caste-based misunderstanding among the people. And the final case of death of recently married young woman is representative of hundreds of similar cases in Nepal. The case is still under investigation but videos of interview with the mourning family and in-laws are uploaded in YouTube blaming each other.
According to the reports, 603 cases of cybercrime and 52 crimes related to YouTube were reported in the year 2077/2078 in press council. Press council has also been monitoring questionable online news portal but due to the large number of contents and lack of a strong law, many cases of online harassment and information are still rampant. Nonetheless the government has prepared guidelines on social media management to make the networking and use of social media systematic and dignified. The government has made a directive using the authority given by Article 79 of the Electronic Transactions Act, 2063 BS. All social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like — will soon need to register with the Department of Information Technology before they are allowed to operate in Nepal, according to the new social media directives drafted by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. If any social media company fails to register, the new directives allow the government to restrict all access to the platform in question. If Facebook, for example, fails to register, 10 million Nepalese could soon lose access to the website. Once registered, the company will not only need to abide by the rules and regulations, including Nepali laws, but also take down any posts that offend “public decency” and “morality”. The directives offer no clear definition of what these terms mean, leaving it open to interpretation at the hands of the police and the courts. All user data will also need to be handed over to any investigating authorities upon request. However, general public fear that the directives will have adverse effect on the freedom of speech but government officials have confirmed that the directives will only control the incidents of violence and crime and the freedom of speech won’t be compromised.
The impact of social media news content on the cases of crimes has huge impact on the lives of people involved and the case itself. The growth of unauthorized channels is creating negativity and misinformation among the general public. The lack of a strong and clear policy and/or law is the major reason behind this situation. While the social media has increased the access of information to the general public, lack of monitoring and evaluation has made it hard to control the activities of violence, abuse and harassment throughout online platform.