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FYI 13th June, 2020

Speaking Of Epidemics – Let’s Talk About Trolling And Online Violence.

The internet can be an adverse place at the best of times. The slightest bit we can do is strive to contribute some kindness where we can.

A few days back, one of my outspoken friends decided to switch her twitter account’s privacy settings from public to private. It was quite shocking for me as I have never seen her so powerless. The only reason behind what she did was because she is a strongly opinionated young girl and courageously talks about her ideas of the perfect world but sadly – some toxic people on the internet couldn’t digest that. They couldn’t tolerate a girl expressing her own views and criticising patriarchy and the basic fabric of our society which subjugates women and treats them as subordinates.

She was trolled for asking questions. Trolling couldn’t change her opinions of course, but the reason she took this step was that her mind couldn’t bear this much negativity and switching her privacy settings was the simplest possible way out for herself. And most importantly, it was also crucial for her own safety. Another friend of mine has a similar story. This time, the reason behind her being intensely trolled is her thin body. She got targeted for being skinny and yet being confident in her own body. Strange, isn’t it?

I will be trying to analyse this online hatred against women in the following paragraphs within the Indian context, the reasons behind this toxic mentality, what the facts have to say and most importantly, the possible solutions in case we face such cyber-crimes.

What’s With The Online Hatred Against Women?

Online hatred against women is almost a virtual extension of the offline violence directed at women owing to their gender identity. It targets their sexuality, lessens them to sexual objects and reinforces gender stereotypes. Online violence often leads to women being shouted down or self-censoring their opinions because of a fear of backlash. Therefore, such abuses act as barriers to women being able to exercise their rights to equality and freedom of expression.

Kiruba Munusamy, a Supreme Court lawyer at a panel discussion on online violence against women organised by Amnesty International India in April, detailed the intersectionality of this abuse: “My colour is commented upon. I am called burnt. Connections are made between my sense of dressing and my caste. In addition, when you are a Dalit, a woman and dark in colour, many do not even come forward to raise their voices for you like they would have if you didn’t belong to a marginalised community. The response of officials is no different.” (The Wire)

Also Read: Navigating The Internet In The Overwhelming Presence Of Misogyny

What Is Trolling?

Trolling is defined as “acting in a deceptive, disruptive and destructive ways in internet social settings with no apparent purpose” (Lenhardt, 2013; Dawson, 2014). In contrast, cyberstalking or other forms of harassment might be targeted at particular individuals with specific intent (Buckels et al., 2014; Dawson, 2014).

Trolling can also be defined as an act of deliberately instigating emotional reactions from others through inflammatory or offensive interactions online (Burcham, 2016). Internet trolls target people for a variety of reasons, and trolling topics can range from politics and current events to celebrity gossip and sports (Burcham, 2016).

Online violence often leads to women being shouted down or self-censoring their opinions because of a fear of backlash.

“People often say that it is just virtual gaali. But you never know when these online trolls could get together and get physical with you, because, on 17 April, my house was fire-bombed. Anything could have happened. But, by the grace of God, nothing happened.”
An excerpt of a statement by Patricia Mukhim, Editor, Shillong Times

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 73% of adult internet users have seen someone be harassed in some way online while 40% have personally experienced it. Of these, women and young adults were more likely than others to experience harassment on social media (Duggan, 2014).

The Types Of Trolls

First of all, if you’re a woman on social media platforms, then you would encounter ‘The Mansplainer Trolls’ the most. They will, literally, discredit everything you say only because they are men and think they know everything. Second most common among them are ‘The Grammar Nazis’. Trust me, they will hunt you down for even a small error in your punctuation. 

There are some toxic trolls who will leave no chance to judge you on the basis of your appearance, your body, your colour, everything. The easiest thing they can do in their lives is body shaming. Ridiculous, right? Then there are the trolls who will never get your point no matter how much you explain it to them but will continue to argue. They will get offended at everything.

The Mansplainer Trolls’ will literally discredit everything you say only because they are men and think they know everything.

If you have offended the haters, then my dear friend, god save you. You can try to reason with them, but they will hate you no matter what you do. No, seriously. Even if there’s no reason for hatred, they will find one. I guess they hate everyone on this earth. But honestly, these trolls have accomplished nothing in life but will dig through every social media platform to degrade other people.

What do the facts have to say?

According to an Amnesty International report, nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of women surveyed across eight countries said they had experienced online abuse or harassment at least once. 59 per cent of women who experienced abuse or harassment said the perpetrators were complete strangers.

In 2017, Amnesty International conducted a study on online violence against women which showed that over 70% of women surveyed had faced some sort of abuse online which changed the way they used social media, and a third of them said they no longer posted their opinions on some issues. Twitter is a toxic space for Indian women politicians, who face substantially higher abuse on the social media platform than their counterparts in the U.S. and the U.K., according to a recent study. In fact, one out of every seven tweets mentioning them is problematic or abusive – with many women targeted by a relentless flow of threats and sexist, religious, racist and casteist slurs.

These trolls have accomplished nothing in life but will dig through every social media platform to degrade other people.

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 73% of adult internet users have seen someone be harassed in some or the other way online while 40% have personally experienced it. Of these, women and young adults were more likely than others to experience harassment on social media.

Also Read: Why Is Online Harassment Considered ‘Not Real’?

Sexual Harassment And Online Spaces: Critical Reflections From The Pandemic

In the 21st century, the internet has become an important space of human existence. The rise of the internet age has led to the empowerment of voices of women and other marginalized groups, yet it has also led to an increase in the incidents of various forms of online sexual violence including cyberstalking, rape threats, blackmailing, picture morphing and even more.

One out of every seven tweets mentioning Indian women politicians is problematic or abusive- with many being targeted by a relentless flow of threats and sexist, religious, racist and casteist slurs.

The pandemic has raised new and graver concerns around online violence and sexual harassment against women as the dynamics of the workplace are changing with an increase in ‘work from home’ and online education. As the world moves online post-COVID-19, there is a need to engage with feminist perspectives, the importance of legal awareness on cybercrime amongst women, and especially students, and the psychological implications of sexual harassment in online spaces.

What are the few things that you can do when faced with cybercrime?

  • Go and report on the social media platform 

    Report the crime on the platform where the abuse occurred. This will help in ensuring that the profile is blocked or deleted. Don’t forget to store the evidence of the abuse – including screenshots, profile URLs, etc.

  • Complaint with the Cyber Crime Cell 

    Head to the Cyber Crime Cell instead of approaching the local police station for complaints related to the cyberspace. You can also file a complaint using the online medium. These crimes can also be reported to the women’s cell or the Anti-stalking cell.

  • Grievance officer/advisor 

    Approach the social media platform and talk to their Grievance Officer. You can also seek legal advice.

Concluding Remarks 

Unfortunately, online spaces are increasingly becoming nasty towards women. It is not an overstatement to say that the need of the hour is to tackle the gendered aspect of this abuse and uphold women’s rights in India.

With growing toxicity on social media platforms – the online harassment and trolling of women in India has become a threat. The understanding of internet trolls has captured the public ingenuity – from women either switching to private settings to protect their mental health and safety or calling out their and other’s online harassers. Today, online trolling and abuse against women has become widespread.

The internet can be an adverse place at the best of times. The slightest bit we can do is strive to contribute some kindness where we can.

Also Read: Doxxing – Imagine Someone Using Your Home Address To Harass You


Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: Amnesty International India

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