Visibly hurt by an invisible assailant
By Shampa Dhar-Kamath | Published: 01st September 2013 12:20 PM |
The more people I encounter virtually, the more I feel that man is intrinsically mean. Because as soon as he thinks he’s invisible, he does or says the most vicious of things. It’s a rare being who is benevolent or caring in secret. The default option is the individual who reveals his nasty streak as soon as he’s under the protective cover of anonymity. He doesn’t care who hears him or whom he hurts; he knows no one can hold him accountable for his actions.
Here’s where the Internet comes in handy, bestowing him with the freedom of anonymity. It lets him cast off his mind-to-mouth filter and social mask of tolerance and courtesy. There, on the virtual platform, he can spit and swear, or act as inflammatory and sexist as he wants—because no one recognizes his voice or knows his name. His target can be an actor, a singer, a TV anchor or a political creature like Sonia Gandhi or Narendra Modi, who attract more hits than a lightning rod. It could also be just an everyday person making a stray comment on Youtube. Anonymity is a great equalizer. Everyone is fair game. And the manhunter takes no prisoners.
It’s a universal phenomenon. The invectives flow across national barriers, with individuals in the US getting attacked as violently as those in India. Consider a picture that Anthropologie—a lifestyle brand that sells women’s clothing and accessories—posted on Instagram on Thursday. It showed Barack Obama and his wife Michelle at the 50th anniversary of the ‘Great March on Washington’. No doubt looking to enhance sales, Anthropologie said the American First Lady was wearing one of its dresses. It was an ordinary picture showing the couple with their arms raised, waving to the crowd or, perhaps, the photographers. The picture garnered thousands of instant reactions from people across the world. Beautiful dress/couple/lady, said many. But an equal number trashed the couple and their politics; others focused on the first lady, her arms, her armpits, her spending, her taste in clothes, and lack of concern for the economy. The comments didn’t stop there; they went on to question the very moral fibre of the Obamas—all on the back of a picture of a frock.
Mob attacks happen pretty much every day on Twitter too. An author may have tweeted about his child’s first day at school. Before he knows it, he will be bombarded with comments that may or may not address the subject at hand, but they will certainly question his parenting style, his right to have a child, his choice of school, his upbringing; maybe even his religion, profession, family, or whatever else occupies the commenter’s mind. It’s almost like a gunman driving by, spraying bullets on whomever and whatever comes his way. Nothing is sacrosanct; no one is safe.
If you were to trace the assailant’s digital footprint—and, believe me, it can be traced—you’d probably find a neighbour or colleague sitting behind the laptop or smartphone. It could equally be a chief executive or a clerk you don’t know. None of them would dare say the things he or she did if the name appeared with the comments. But the comments are a clear indicator of the darkness that lurks in their soul. They say anonymity is liberating. But not everyone can shoulder the burden of freedom with grace.