By Damini Singh
With the advent of the internet, and the subsequent plethora of websites and platforms, people all across the world started to form connections via a seamless medium, which was both user-friendly and to a great extent, free of cost. This led to the dissolution of boundaries in communication mediums across socio-economic strata, between genders and every other conceivable layer of the society.
Social media as a facilitator
Social media websites were a concept whose inception and consequent execution did not come long after the tech boom of the 20th century. Starting off with blogging, its popularity soon exploded, and websites started popping up, where people could join chat rooms, share pictures from their daily lives, and make friends with a person sitting in any corner of the world. By 2006, Facebook and Twitter had been launched, and both were available to users everywhere, gaining immense popularity. With over one billion and 330 million active users respectively, they remain two of the most popular social media platforms.
Twitter has made it possible for a person to have a whole world of information about events and news from all around the world just a touch away. From discussions and intense debates to highly opinionated people trying to fit a whole array of argument in only 280 (earlier, 140) characters, Twitter is a platform that hosts it all. Celebrities, activists, politicians, scientists; people from all walks of life now have an often smartly curated, online presence. This allows the common people, faithful fans, vexatious haters or nonchalant observers, access to their thoughts, opinions and beliefs.
The problem with too much online freedom
Disagreements will occur wherever there is a mass flow of polarised opinions; and Twitter, with its millions of followers, as a platform, is no exception. People, with their wordplay and remarkable paraphrasing abilities, express conflicting emotions and stances, creating friction between the staunch believers and the hardcore disbelievers. In other words, it becomes a battleground between the adherent and sceptic.
‘Trolling’ is a term coined to define the people who take disagreements up a notch, and choose to express that disagreement in a rude and impertinent manner. They are bullies who, hiding behind the protection that online anonymity provides, dish out crude comments, spread malicious rumours and cause pandemonium in general. These bullies do not regard their victim’s situations; they do not look for logic in their arguments and simply try to enforce a policy of “if you are not with me, you must be against me”. Instead of providing valid reasons to support their viewpoint, which isn’t even legitimate in a lot many cases, they try to subjugate their victims into either agreeing with them or staying silent.
The sexist nature of bullying
Every society in the world is characterised by sexism of some form or the other. This sexist, often misogynistic, attitude, present in both men and women, has found a presence on the social networking platforms as well. In fact, there is an alarmingly large number of cases where cyberbullying has been perpetrated and directed towards women, solely based on their gender. To assert their opinions and make the opposing party forcibly agree, many people go so far as to dish out dangerous intimidations, ranging from rape threats and murders to making libellous remarks on someone’s physical appearance, mental health and slandering their morals and character.
These situations tend to get extremely ugly when threats like these are followed up in real life. Online stalkers show up in real life which often causes female celebrities to adopt extra protection upon receiving virtual threats. Situations have occurred where women, who were harassed online, realized that somehow this slander had trickled into their workplaces and educational institutes, starting off a highly-functional rumour mill, resulting in mental trauma, isolation, and suicidal tendencies.
Factors leading to cyberbullying
When it comes to cyberbullying, people are motivated by many different reasons. Some do it for entertainment purposes, while some do it simply because they are ‘bored’. The power-hungry bully others to establish dominance, control and to boost their ego. Often, people slander women to fat-shame and slut-shame them, just because of their own twisted notions. Instances of online trolling have bullies who do it out of anger, frustration or spite. All of them do it, ultimately, only because they can.
Take the case of Gurmeher Kaur. Her message was promptly misinterpreted according to the convenience of the chauvinistic, self-proclaimed nationalists, who instantly sparked an online trolling campaign, aimed at slandering her character, trying to prove she had no morals and raining rape and death threats on her. All because she voiced her opinion, which was not in line with that of the majority. They went so far as to stalk her social media profiles, find videos of her going about her life and spreading it on other platforms such as WhatsApp, accompanied by messages that implied that “such a girl who drinks, parties, or goes out with her friends” has no say in the matters of the nation. This was a 20-year old girl, who simply wanted to spread a message via the internet.
There are innumerable cases like this where an online predator decided to harass a woman simply for being a woman. As long as these insane notions are not weeded out from the fabric of the society, we will continue to live in a world where hypermasculinity calls the shots and the bully will become absolutely unabashed, unyielding and unafraid.
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