Women targets of cyber-bullying

If you have strong opinions about gender and politics, be prepared to be trolled and bullied online; especially if you’re a woman Since anonymity and freedom to say anything enables bullies, more often than not, victims stay silent instead of filing a formal complaint

Published: 17th May 2016 03:49 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th May 2016 08:46 AM   |  A+A-

CHENNAI: No wonder women like you get raped”, “Your parents did not raise you right”, “You b****, do not get influenced by western culture and spoil ours”, “Do you go around having free sex?”

If facebook comments are to be generalised, these are the few that we come across every now and then, apart from the hate comments against religious and gender minorities, and the banter unique to fans of sports and actor fan clubs. We see it, read it, and ignore it. The amount of vitriol spewed on social media, if quantified can exceed the oil reserves in the world. 

Film director Lingusamy said in an interview to a daily on how the troll memes affected his school-going children. Recently, the winner of a singing competition (reality show) vented out his frustration in a rather long facebook post after he became the butt of all trolls and abuses on social networking sites.

women targets.jpgSo how does it feel to be at the receiving end of these abuses? Especially, if you are not a film celebrity or a sporting great, but a teenager or a young adult just wanting to socialise in the virtual space? J Namithaa is all of 22-year-old college student. Today, her name can be googled along with the TV talk show she participated in and the monitor is flooded with memes of her. She sits across the coffee shop where we met on a Sunday and shows me the suggestive messages she still gets on her facebook.

How active are you on Facebook? “Extremely active!” she says. Not surprising for a 22-year-old. At a reality talk show aired on Star Vijay TV on January 24 this year, Namithaa expressed her views about women consuming alcohol and the way they dress. The one hour show was shot for about five hours a month before it went on air. She had celebrated her birthday a few days before she participated in the show. 

“During the period, the show was shot and it was aired, I least expected it to spiral out in the way it did,” she rues. On the day it was aired, she watched it with her parents. “My parents hugged me tight. It felt good. They had their apprehensions though, if I was too vocal,” she says.

However, her elation was not to stay for too long. Being the ‘extremely active’ facebooker she is, Namithaa learnt of the harsh realities even before the show ended. “One of the men (in the show) asked me, ‘Why do you drink?’, which is awfully personal in the first place. I retorted that it was none of his business and I think that is where all the harassment started.”

The memes and messages were initially harmless. Then, it led to the obvious. “It became personal. They had to talk about my attributes, physical of course,” Namithaa says. She also recalled how she was, in her words, kindly and generously explained how a woman’s dress actually lures rapists. For a month after the talk show was aired, Namithaa was served as breakfast, lunch and dinner for the audience of the meme pages. “Some of these pages that took me for a ride were famous, with more than a lakh followers,” she adds. Now being the election season, it’s the incompetence of politicians, a few days ago it was Justice for Jisha, the IPL, EPL, so on and so forth.

“When the onslaught started, I went into depression. I did not deserve this much hate. I chose not to log in to my account,” she avers. Namithaa says that though she was aware of what victims of online abuse go through, she understood the magnitude when it happened to her.

But her parents are not aware of the magnitude of online abuse. “My elder sister and I decided to keep it that way. In fact, my sister fought with all the troll pages asking them to pull those offensive memes off,” she adds. This anonymity, the freedom of say anything without getting into trouble, helps those who harass, says city-based psychologist, Dr Abilasha. Practising for more than a decade, Abilasha says there has been an increase in the number of cyber abuse victims over the past four years.

”Psychologically, when you abuse someone, it gives a feel of superiority. When obscene comments are passed, there are few who will welcome that and appreciate. Abusers enjoy that recognition,” she says. Dr Abilasha has seen cases of teenage girls who went into depression over their pictures being misused; a team leader in an IT company who was constantly harassed by an anonymous person online, turned out to be a member of her team. “Few years back, one woman even committed suicide,” she says.

Namithaa is lucky to have a set of friends who were supportive during those times. “They insisted I press charges, but I saw no point in doing so. Also, it is going to be a long battle,” Namithaa says.

Today, Namithaa get unwelcomed recognition when she hangs out with her friends. She still calls her friends to remove the facebook comments from strangers who identify her from the talk show and memes. “I am used to pointed stares and whispers. I am THAT girl now,” she smiles.

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