New Delhi: Though internet penetration has increased in India, making it the world’s second largest internet consumer base, online abuse remains a serious issue for the marginalised groups, a new report has revealed.

According to the “Freedom on the Net 2016” report by US-based think tank Freedom House, released on Monday, which examined threats marginalised groups face online in India, online harassment was a serious threat for more than half of survey respondents yet women and other targets lack support and understanding to respond effectively.

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In India, Japleen Pasricha, founder and editor-in-chief of the website “Feminism in India” in collaboration with Freedom House, conducted a survey of 500 social media users for Freedom House and interviewed respondents to highlight harassment of women on social media.

“Thirty-six percent of respondents who had experienced harassment online took no action at all. Twenty-eight percent reported that they had intentionally reduced their online presence after suffering online abuse,” the report said.

Thirty percent of survey respondents said they were not aware of laws to protect them from online harassment. Only a third of respondents reported harassment to law enforcement — among them, 38 percent characterised the response as “not at all helpful”.

The findings revealed that despite being avid users of social media, respondents reported losing trust in popular platforms because of harassment against them or someone they know.

“Social media platforms have mechanisms for users to report abusive behaviour that violates community standards, but abusers exploit the same mechanisms to accuse their victims of violations, and often succeed in temporarily disabling their target’s account,” the report further stated.

Overall, internet freedom around the world declined in 2016 for the sixth consecutive year. Two-thirds of all internet users — 67 percent — live in countries where criticism of the government, military or ruling family are subject to censorship.

“Globally, 27 percent of all internet users live in countries where people have been arrested for publishing, sharing, or merely ‘liking’ content on Facebook. Governments are increasingly going after messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, which can spread information quickly and securely,” the report stated.

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