Social media has moved to its dark side (read the Star Wars reference)! We do not deny the Force in it, but the Star Ship has been invaded by the Siths. To put it in simple words, we do acknowledge the good that social media platforms offer, but you have to see its downside too. It has connected the world in ways that would have been impossible otherwise, it gives everyone a platform to give voice to their thought, it spreads information within seconds. What started with innocent status updates, photo sharing and connecting with ‘friends’ has, now has the capacity to turn into a dreaded place for some, where rampant extremism, abuse and hatred reside.
Internet is the sixth continent
Let us put it in perspective for you, according to a report by Kaspersky Lab, the total number of people in the world is believed to be about 7.4 billion, and with an annual increase of 17 percent the social media is turned into a behemoth. The same is true for many other popular social networks. Twitter’s 310 million monthly active users post 347,222 times in the average minute. Many of them tweet more than a hundred times every day, and even more people tweet less often than once per day. More than 40 billion photos have been shared on Instagram since its launch, and more than 80 million photos are published there every day.
Essentially, along with the being an open platform for freedom of speech, considering the mass occupancy on these platforms, clash of opinions is inevitable; and on a platform where you have an identity that no one can really track, people sometimes tend to lose the sense of responsibility towards the things they say. These platforms, which have may seem on the verge of replacing mainstream media, have become more powerful than you would actually think. For heaven’s sake, publications now depend on social media for a better reach to their readers!
There’s always a but…
There are hilarious memes, jokes, puppy pictures, the most inspirational things in the world, the stories of success, but there also memes that are made at the expense of someone’s emotions, there are cruel jokes that attack someone on a personal level, there is bullying, mocking and abuse. Well, the most recent example of the same is the Gurmehar Kaur case.
Without diving deep into politics over her video, let’s just talk about how easy it was for people online to hurl abuse and even rape threats to a person. Starting with Indian cricketer Virender Sehwag taking a dig at her on Twitter, the girl was made the butt of jokes on hatred on Facebook. Now, the memes and jokes could actually be taken in good spirit, but these jokes soon turned into abuse and threats. Gurmehar Kaur’s video and herself became a national issue. The bullying crossed limits when she began to receive rape and death threats on WhatsApp.
— Virender Sehwag (@virendersehwag) February 26, 2017
Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chief Swati Maliwal issued notice to Facebook seeking details to identify those who issued rape threats to Delhi University student Gurmehar Kaur. She also asked Facebook to deactivate the accounts from which the threats were issued. In the notice, Maliwal wrote that Kaur was subjected to “extreme abuse and rape threats” on her Facebook profile.
But it’s not just one case of online bullying and trolling going too far. If you rewind a little, three years ago, when China’s President Xi Jinping was visiting India, an anchor of Doordarshan news, had a little (kind of huge) faux pas, where she confused Xi’s name with the Roman numerals XI (as in the world ‘eleven’). The anchor was trolled on social media left, right and centre. Eventually her name was removed from the panel of newsreaders of Doordarshan news, describing the error as “grave”.
A similar event occurred when another DD News anchor, Aayenah Pahuja’s video on her interview in IFFI, Goa, where she failed to recognise most dignitaires. Moments later she was being trolled at the “dumb Doordarshan girl” all over social media.
In a follow up video that YouTube-channel, The Logical Indian did with Pahuja, she explained how this was caused due to a technical error, and the endless trolling broke her confidence to levels that she became “suicidal.”
There is another instance, where the irresponsibilities of some social media users, worked as a catalyst in the death of four teenagers. In a post by Facebook user Asavari Bharadwaj on January 8, one of the four kids who died in the accident was her cousin and she blames unreasonable social media behavior for it. She wrote, before the families of these children received any information from the cops or a passer-by about the accident, they actually received the news via WhatsApp videos and forward messages. Bharadwaj was sent videos of her cousin and her friends crying for help, where no one was actually seen pulling them out of the crashed cars. This is as low as it could be!
The point being, memes, funny videos, jokes, can all be taken in good spirit, and even if someone disagrees with you on massive platforms like these, you should just respect their ideas, but there is a distinct line that needs to be drawn. And it’s not just these few examples, you and I in our daily lives have been bullied and sometimes unknowingly even, we have been the bully as well.
India acing cyberbullying
I can bet there would be many of you reading who would say I am stressing too much on the negative of social media, well, there is proof. According to a recent study by Microsoft, 77 percent Indians reported behavioral concerns like cyberbullying, trolling, online harassment, sexual solicitation, sexting, revenge porn or sextortion.
Further, 54 percent of Indian parents fear that their children are more likely to be bullied online than on a playground, a Norton by Symantec study revealed in January 2017.
“A concern for many parents is that cyber bullying doesn’t stop when their child leaves school — as long as your child is connected to a device, a bully can connect to them,” said Ritesh Chopra, Country Manager, Norton by Symantec.
In words of Altaf Halde, “The Internet can be used as a terrifyingly efficient medium of cyberbullying. It is also very easy to get stuck in an endless circle of hurt from these kinds of attacks.”
Now, cyberbullying is a concern, not only for users but the platforms themselves. The likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have been continually releasing online tools to counter any kind of harassment or abuse on their platform. Twitter has recently begun a practice where it wants to identify accounts which are continuously engaged in abusive behavior or have been reported by other users, and limit their account functions.
Similarly, Facebook has multiple tools like these where it lets users report abuse, it allows users to block people from their timeline, it lets them mute unwanted comments, and gives users a lot of freedom to make their accounts as personal as they can. Likewise, Instagram has tools too, which let your personalize the reach of each post, disable comments on any image you upload to keep away from bad commentary. Basically, we agree that social media platforms are doing their part, however, the point is, is that enough?
If in a situation like Gurmehar’s, how do you think the social media harassment can be tackled? For all you know, Gurmehar may have blocked her accounts, activated anti-abuse tools, but this issue went far beyond. She had people reaching her WhatsApp and her personal contact number. However, as a user of these platforms, it is not just the onus of the platform to protect a user, a user themselves must also understand how they could protect themselves. It’s like they say, ‘God helps those, who help themselves’!
A DIY guide for social media users
Hence, here’s a self-help guide for every social media user to combat any kind of cyber bullying. First of all, every user should understand, according to Section 66A in the amended IT Act, sending any message (through a computer or a communication device) that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; any communication which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing insult, annoyance, criminal intimidation comes under this section. This crime is punishable up to three years with a fine.
Therefore, if you ever face such issue, don’t be threatened, and stand up for yourself. The only good news about online cyberbullying, is that evidence of the bullying can usually be captured, saved and shown to someone who can help. It is important to keep all evidence of the bullying — messages, posts, comments, etc. If there are ways you can determine who exactly is making the comments, also document that.
Second, contact the service or content provider through which the bullying is occurring. For example, if you are being cyber bullied on Facebook, you can refer to its Help Centre or on your profile settings you would ‘Report Abuse’ or simply block a contact or block posts from a user.
In case of Twitter, you can refer to their Help Centre as well, or you could navigate to the Tweet you’d like to report, click or tap on the more icon, and select the option to Report. Twitter will ask you to categorise the report under abusive or harmful, and then it would further ask you to detail the incidence, submit form and your complaint will be registered with the platform.
Basically, be informed, and be responsible yourself as a social media user. Sharing good thoughts and starting debates are needed in a democracy but forcing your thoughts on someone is not the point of an open dialogue. While social media platforms do have the responsibility to filter out the abusive content, but it’s also up to us, the users, to flag such accounts and bullies online, and prevent each other from being a victim of online abuse. The Dark Side has a great pull, but let the Force be strong, and pull your lightsabre against the Sith of the online world!