An Instagram story took Manav's life - A petition to save others

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Threatening stories, posts and messages on social media can have major impacts on people’s real lives - this is a fact commonly known to most. We, Manav Singh’s family, were blissfully unaware of the dire consequences it could have on the lives of all of us. Manav committed suicide by jumping from the 11th floor of his residence on 4th May 2020 - the reason for his suicide being a malicious Instagram story put up by a girl accusing him of attempted rape and the excessive hate messages and threats that followed.

On social media, a loosely regulated internet based platform, a user was able to put out a derogatory statement accusing a minor of rape and within an hour the kid jumped to his death. This incident, an eye opener for many calls for deeper investigation into the way our children are using social media.

According to an article in Time Magazine, approximately 80% of all teenagers are on Instagram and more than half of them have been bullied, perpetrators and victims of online abuse and bullying are unable to contact authorities that may be of help in channeling the issues they are facing in the correct legal or psychological direction.

Social media acts as an open platform for children to vent out about serious problems for their friends of the same age group to see and empathize with. While expression of incidents of sexual violence is important to raise awareness of its magnitude, the recourse of publicly naming and shaming a minor on social media, for an accusation as consequential as attempted rape can have egregious results.

Through this petition we wish to start a discussion in families, government ministries and social media sites about the way social media is used by teenagers as a one-stop-shop to express incidents that should be subject to proper legal proceedings.

Adopting a bottom-up approach, families should openly discuss how they use social media and children should be reminded that the first safe space for them to confide and share feelings with is family and never virtual friends in a virtual world. Among peer groups in schools it is important for us to know that social media is a platform to post your pictures, share memes, talk about relevant social issues but not to accuse someone of a criminal offence- that job mandates proper legal intervention.

Social media sites, specifically Instagram, being the most popular among teenagers, must introspect and put out stronger policing mechanisms to check what the younger audience is posting and sharing. Stories and posts that refer to serious accusations such as sexual assault should go through a stringent check by the platform before they are exposed to the public eye to restrict such content.

A minor’s consent is no consent according to law, the dichotomy of the situation lies in the fact that a 13-year-old  can consent to be on social media sites and put up unregulated posts and comments while the legal age for one’s consent to be valid is 18.

Prohibiting minors from signing up to these sites is futile, as people will find loopholes such as entering fake date of births. This makes it necessary for social media sites to restrict the kind of posts that minors can make.

An Instagram update in 2019 notifies users that comments like the one they are trying to make have been reported earlier and asks the user to reconsider whether they want to post the comment. This feature only works for comments and instead of deleting, it only notifies the user that what they are posting might be derogatory. Instagram can enhance this very software and extend it to posts and stories and going beyond than just notifying the user, Instagram should review the posts and if it contains possible criminal issues, the post or story should not be published online, rather it should be forwarded to the concerned authorities.

This would act as a double edged sword, both deterring people from making false accusations and leading actual cases to the correct forums where they can be dealt with properly.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Ministry of Women and Child, Government of India should also take cognizance of such activities that take place online and pressure the social media sites to self-regulate.

Our aim is to shed light upon the actual, real life consequences that this virtual world of ours can have and to make social media sites realize that the need of the hour is to regulate the content teenagers can post on their websites. We urge you to sign this petition because we have lost our child, but many more children are going through the same trauma day in and day out and we cannot afford to lose another life to something as trifling as social media.