What is it about the internet that makes people so vicious? What is it about social media that allows people (and I’m not just talking about anonymous accounts) to turn into bullies?
They will never say horrible things to your face but somehow on Twitter it becomes OK. I learnt this the hard way this past week after going public with my horrific experience of a fake job offer.
First of all, it isn’t easy telling the whole world you made a big mistake and got conned. It isn’t easy admitting to your vulnerability and putting it out there.
And while the reactions of Twitter trolls didn’t surprise me at all (I expect nothing less from them), what did surprise me were the judgemental, downright nasty reactions of others. Sure, everyone will have an opinion and the internet allows us to express those even more so. But what does it say about us when we kick someone who is down?
Passing judgement without even trying to reach out and ask “hey, what happened exactly”? Some of this quick judgement came from those who themselves have been at the receiving end of social media frenzy in the past.
And others, who were cosying up to me earlier when I worked in television so that they could be invited on TV panels as commentators. Today these people are proud to victim shame.
Internet bullying is real. I’m not the first person to face it and I won’t be the last. I remember how viciously people went after a then young college student Gurmeher Kaur, some years ago, because she put out a video message calling for peace between India and Pakistan and dared to speak out against the RSS student wing, the ABVP.
She was attacked not just by right wing trolls but even by sitting ministers, sportsmen and others who thought nothing of going after a teenager.
I interviewed Gurmeher at the time and was so amazed at her strength and fortitude in dealing with all the hate. As a Lady Shri Ram (LSR) alumnus like her, I am proud of how she has handled herself and gone on to do much greater things.
Internet hate campaigns
Women who are public figures, especially liberal women in India, are regular targets of internet hate campaigns. Rana Ayyub, Swara Bhaskar, Arfa Khanum Sherwani, Priya Ramani, and countless others have withstood cyber bullying and fought back fiercely and courageously. But it isn’t easy. All of it takes a mental toll no matter how brave you may be. It is especially hurtful when your own peers and people you know jump in and join the bandwagon.
That’s not to say there aren’t good people out there. I’ve been overwhelmed with support and love from many many thousands and that has been a huge source of comfort.
So how does one deal with online hate and bullying? I’m not in favour of censorship. People should be free to express their views. My only hope is that they stop to think about the consequences of their words about others who are real people too. Till then, my advice would be to be on social media sparingly and read a book. It’s far more comforting.
What happened to me has hurt no one but me alone. By speaking out, I hope I can help other people come forward and not feel afraid to admit they got conned and go to the police.
So many people have written to me privately with their own experiences but are too embarrassed to speak up. And I totally understand why. We are a society that mocks those for their misfortune and lacks empathy. To those people, I applaud you for never having made a mistake in your life, for being perfect. I am not.
But I will learn from this and come back stronger. I am not embarrassed for being the victim of a crime. If my story can help anyone else dealing with something similar, it’s all worth it.