Social networking sites are not to be scoffed at, perhaps. They help parents with NRI children stay in touch in the quickest way possible. But such benign interactions are only one aspect of them. They are increasingly becoming a medium of bullying and harassment. A recent report suggests that there is a spike in the number of complaints lodged regarding the abuse being posted on online platforms. There were 19 cases registered in Chennai in 2010 and 35 in 2011. It’s also believed that 80 per cent victims withdraw their complaints after learning the identity of the perpetrator, who, in most cases, is a relative of theirs or a friend. Celebrities who use Facebook and Twitter to interact with their fans often quit after being dogged by online harassment.
After getting several derogatory comments from her followers, Shriya Saran has become the latest celebrity to quit Twitter. Her twitter post read: “Done with twitter. I’m not on twitter from now on. Crazy stupid people. Can’t take all the trash written.” The Midnight’s Children star said she’d rather not comment on why it became such a personal issue for her as there was “too much controversy involved”.
While Shriya took the ultimate decision of leaving the forum, actor Siddharth wishes that his friends were strong-minded enough to avoid the hate mail. He tweeted saying, “So many of my friends have quit twitter because despite warnings to ignore, that one mean personal comment got to them on a bad day. Sad! Haters exist everywhere. In places of worship, in movie halls, stadiums and in political groups. My 2 cents, never quit because of them!”
Last year, singer Chinmayee was harassed by a few men, they passed lewd comments. The wrongdoers were arrested based on a complaint that the singer and her mother registered. But Chinmayee hasn’t quit any of the social networking sites. She put up a bold fight and continued to interact with her fans on Twitter. Talking about the case, Chinmayee’s mother, Padmhasini says, “The case is pending in the court now. Yes, we were asked by many to withdraw the complaint. But we refused because such targeting of women should stop. People should appreciate the fact that celebrities and politicians who use Twitter and Facebook are also human beings. Those who pass bad comments about them on Twitter would not be able to say it to them in person. They should be decent enough to understand how these portals have to be handled.”
Dr Dheep, psychiatrist, observes that social networking websites have entered our lives very recently and people are still not exposed to this new form of proximity. “When women get harassed, they feel absolutely threatened. Though they lodge a complaint, the immediate reaction would be to escape from such portals. We still haven’t learnt the right way to use such networking websites. We need to mature and equip ourselves to handle such people. If we become a part of such portals, we should be brave enough to handle the wrongdoers as well,” says Dr. Dheep, who also advises that one should be familiar with the privacy settings of one’s account thoroughly. “Users should understand how the medium works. Men and women have to be extra careful. Anything you say and do might turn against you. We should change our mindset and understand that the perpetrators want to do what they can’t do in real life,” he points out.
Nirmala Kotravai, founder, Movement Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexism (MASES) points out how important it is to go beyond the tip of the iceberg that online harassment is. What happens on social media forms 1 per cent of the abuse happening in society. “When we talk of punishments or action against any misdeed the administrators seem to only address the superficial layer to satisfy their conscience. This is of no use. What we need is ideological transformation. Men, a male-dominated society should be made gender-sensitive. The authorities should first root out all the ‘poisonous ideological weeds against women’,” she says.