We pacify ourselves by convincing our conscience that there is a difference between the real and virtual world. We tell ourselves again and again that whatever happens behind the screen, stays behind the screen. We slam our laptop screens shut and immediately feel a sense of immunity from the intangible world. We fail to realise that the way we consume the internet, makes this ‘line’ thinner by the minute. The idea that the virtual world is exclusive of the real one, can be agreed on being a false one, as soon as that product ordered online reaches your doorstep within a week.
We put out our private information for the world to view. We remind ourselves as soon as we put something up, that it is open to whatever opinion anyone might have. This flawed understanding of the social media is what makes us complicit in the felony that is cyber harassment.
The internet was conceived with the understanding that it would become a space for people to exchange information, thoughts, ideas, images, videos, and such. However, with each passing day, the internet is becoming an intolerable space with little room for dialogue or dissent. It’s commonly assumed that attacking someone on the basis of their appearance, sexuality, background, is easier than to engage in a discussion tackling their viewpoint alone.
Following, is an attempt at understanding, the ‘twisted’ concept that is cyber harassment, and attempting to stir up a discussion surrounding the reaction that is obligatory in response to this crime.
If you feel attacked or harassed online, report it. If you are still targeted, after making it clear that you don’t consent to the discussion/argument, you are being cyber bullied. There! It’s rather simple to understand if one tries to imagine the situation as an occurrence in the real world. To simplify it further, I’m going to try to paint a picture that I request all of you to visualise in your minds.
You’re at the metro station waiting with a friend, for the next metro to take you home. It’s quite crowded – you can hear a constant murmur in the background while you and your friend criticise a government policy. Someone taps your shoulder. You look back and it’s a man/woman. You ignore them but they don’t budge. They suddenly start to tell you that you don’t deserve to be a part of the country if you don’t like the policy. They start to become aggressive and gather their friends around, who second their opinion. You try to have a conversation but they refuse to listen. The clamour keeps amplifying and the mob keeps multiplying. You’re stuck, you don’t know what to do. You’re afraid. You look at your phone, wondering if you should seek help, at which point you see your metro. You quickly hop on with your friend and that’s it, you’re gone.
Now, imagine the same circumstances, but this time you’re online. You share something on your wall because you feel entitled to your viewpoint. It’s your personal profile page and you feel like you have the right to express your opinion. The next moment, your post is bombarded with replies that aren’t seeking to start a conversation but are guided towards shutting you down and threatening you to stay shut.
Now, the only difference between this scenario in comparison to the former is that you stay calm. You don’t feel as threatened, so reporting these threats never crosses your mind. Your metro here arrives in the shape of a ‘block’ icon, and that’s about it.
We live in a day and age where we are active in the virtual world, more than in the real world. Then why is it, that we still remain unaffected by what is happening in the virtual space? The on-ground survey conducted by the Breakthrough Generation Team, 2017, clearly illustrates examples of situations in the virtual space, transcending into the real space. It also reassures us of the fact that the virtual space can become very dangerous very quickly, due to the factor of anonymity that people enjoy; it can create very negative, hateful echo chambers that aren’t easy to escape.
Bottom line: it’s time we started to react to the outrageous abuse of this technological tool that could otherwise prove to be an extremely useful, beautiful invention. We, as a generation are becoming more and more accepting of the atrocities that go on around us. We are forgetting how to react, and that even feeling uncomfortable is enough reason to retaliate.
We tend to brush off every act that we believe isn’t a ‘big enough deal’, and rationalise it. We’ve become used to people leering at us on the streets; we’ve become used to being hurled abuses at; we’ve become used to being hit and pushed around (“at least it isn’t a bad injury” is what we tell ourselves). This casual approach towards mistreatment is even more deep-rooted in the virtual space. The perpetrator feels invincible behind a veil of anonymity and the victim feels immune once the tab is shut close. The one who commits this atrocity is obviously at fault, but the one who sits back and lets it happen is no less than an accomplice.
We like to speak strongly against perpetrators of any kind of criminal activity; we like to provide solutions and surprisingly creative ways of punishment. But have we ever taken a minute to think, what part we might have to play in that act of violence? Every time we stand by and do nothing; every time we let something go because we don’t think it’s ‘serious enough’; every time we stop and withdraw ourselves from an act because we don’t want to ‘get into it’, we are committing a crime.
Start reacting. Start getting angry. An angry reaction is all we ask of you. The right kind of anger. The anger that urges you to stand up and raise your voice. The anger that will propel you to grab back agency. The anger that pushes you forward and gives you the strength to stand by anyone who needs you. Not the anger that coerces you to become aggressive. Let’s redefine anger. Let’s reclaim the virtual space, from the hands of those who don’t know any better than to spread negativity and preach hate.
The current times demand this generation to give ‘anger’ a new meaning. Anger doesn’t have to remain synonymous to aggression. We can speak up in anger, peacefully. It just requires us to understand that it’s indispensable to start reacting. Learn to converse and learn to furnish space for dissent. The online world can validate only as much as it will discredit. The virtual world can become as real as the real world – something we need to remind ourselves before we decide to go on being indifferent towards everything wrong that is happening online.
Note: This blog post has been written as a part of the campaign ‘Online Hai Toh Fine Hai‘ which is being run by our Breakthrough interns ( Summer internship 2017).