Watch Nidhi Razdan: Tech firms need to do more to tackle online trolling and abuse Video Credit: Gulf News

Social media can be an ugly space and it took the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, to remind us about just how bad it can get. Last week, Meghan said she had experienced online bullying while she was pregnant with both of her children, saying it was “not catty but cruel”.

“You really wrap your head around why people would be so hateful…we have forgotten about our humanity,” she said at an event in Texas.

As an avid royal watcher, I haven’t been a fan of Harry and Meghan but what she said about online hate has hit home. No matter what you feel about the royal family, there is no doubt Meghan Markle has faced unrelenting online hate and it only highlights the similar challenges that women in particular face across the world in the social media space.

On International Women’s Day this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) along with more than 100 journalists and media leaders sent an open letter to senior British police officers and MPs, calling on them to break the cycle of online violence and abuse against women working in journalism in the UK.

The letter says “recent research showed that three-quarters of women working in the UK journalism and media industries had experienced rape or death threats, harassment, stalking, misogyny or sexual approaches online in connection to their work.”

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Spaces for disinformation

The same story plays out online in India, where women journalists are frequently targeted for abuse and bullying. I have personally been at the receiving end of this for years now along with many colleagues in the industry who have faced everything from abusive language to deep fake photos. The language is toxic, the abuse vile but online bullying is not just about using bad language.

It also involves the repeated trolling of a person, often affecting their mental health. I have been asked many times about how I personally deal with online trolling and abuse. Over the years I have learnt to get a thicker skin, but also to liberally use the ‘block’ and ‘mute’ buttons on ‘X’ and cut away toxic people. But often it is just not enough.

Social media platforms need to do much more to make spaces safe for women and law enforcement agencies like the police need to take online threats far more seriously.

As the CPJ letter in the UK points out, online violence against journalists hurts press freedom especially in election season, creating spaces for disinformation. Their appeal to the police is to be more consistent in handling complaints.

Read more by Nidhi Razdan

‘Online Harms Act’

But the responsibility for dealing with online hate does not rest with social media platforms and the police alone. It also rests with all of us. How many times have you thought twice before sharing a social media post that trolls someone personally?

Have you ever considered that the person at the other end is human? Of course the problem of online abuse is not limited to women. Today it is affecting entire communities, as we see with Muslims in India and other parts of the world. Here, social media platforms have failed to address the issues comprehensively.

Canada has just introduced a new bill to combat online abuse which has strict punishments for hate crime. The ‘Online Harms Act’ will require social media platforms to remove posts within 24 hours.

Those found guilty of inciting genocide online could face up to life in prison. Much of the new law focuses on the protection of children. If passed, the new bill will put Canada in the same group as the EU, Australia and the UK in regulating online hate.

These are small but important steps. But we also need to move ahead cautiously, so that regulation does not end up becoming an excuse for governments to impose censorship. Most of all, the power lies with all of us.

Are we willing to step back and think before we put out a post?