What is GitHub, and how did it get misused in Bulli Bai case?

The software development platform was in the news as the student who used it to run the app ‘auctioning’ Muslim women was nabbed by police

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Technology, particularly social media, offers cutting edge tools and complete anonymity that criminals are quick to use. (Representational image)

The ‘Bulli Bai’ app case, which has created a wave of anger and repulsion among the public, is now being probed by the cyber cells of Mumbai and Delhi police. The police have detained a 21-year-old engineering student from Bengaluru in the case.

While an investigation is on, the spotlight has also been on GitHub, the platform that hosted the Bulli Bai app. It has triggered concerns on how far technology can ‘aid’ crime, and debate on what can be done to check it.

What is GitHub?

GitHub, a San Francisco-based software company, is stated to be the world’s largest open-source developer community platform. Here, users upload their projects and code for others to view, edit, and tweak.


Also read: Bulli Bai row: 21-year-old engineering student detained in Bengaluru

Bulli Bai was launched on GitHub on January 1 by the engineering student whose name has been withheld. On opening, it displayed a Muslim woman’s face as ‘Bulli Bai’. The app listed hundreds of Muslim women — including students, journalists and social workers — for ‘auction’ along with their morphed photographs sourced illegally.

This was the second such occurrence in less than a year. The app appeared to be a clone of Sulli Deals, which was also hosted on GitHub and triggered a similar ruckus last year. Both Bulli Bai and Sulli Deals targeted women with a large following on Twitter.

What action has GitHub taken?

Stating that it has policies on its platform against content and conduct involving harassment, discrimination and the inciting of violence, GitHub has suspended the Bulli Bai user account.

“GitHub has longstanding policies against content and conduct involving harassment, discrimination, and inciting violence. We suspended a user account following the investigation of reports of such activity, all of which violate our policies,” its spokesperson said.

The US firm has cooperated with Indian law enforcement, whose requests do comply with globally established legal procedures. “We informed India police of our policy in this case and will assist upon receiving valid legal process from them,” said a company statement.

Can tech firms be held responsible for cybercrime?

Technology, particularly social media, offers cutting edge tools and complete anonymity that criminals are quick to use. However, it is next to impossible for tech firms to fully monitor their respective platforms at a global level.

Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms do have filters that ‘pick’ what could be offensive content, but the filters themselves are rather controversial.

What police do expect, however, is cooperation from the tech firms for investigations. In the Bulli Bai case, and Sulli Deals before that, GitHub took down the accounts on being flagged. Police sought details from the firm about the Bulli Bai app developer, and used it to nab him.

A lot of communal content related to Bulli Bai was also found on Twitter. Police asked the microblogging platform to remove the offensive content and block the user, which was again complied with.