Fans Of Tamil Star Vijay Have Displayed How Toxic Hero Worship Can Become Online Abuse

Facebook logoEditor’s Note: With #NoPlace4Hate, Youth Ki Awaaz and Facebook have joined hands to help make the Internet a safer space for all. Watch this space for powerful stories of how young people are mobilising support and speaking out against online bullying.

Witnessing heated exchanges on social media is common. In a way, it is a form of healthy debate that helps us to gather perspectives about a topic. Things get ugly when the discussions and comments become abusive. It is terrible when the language used is filthy and the content is awfully graphic and full of malice.

There was an incident recently involving a journalist who happened to express an opinion about a movie, using another movie as a metric for comparison. All hell broke loose when the fans of the second movie, which was not even a subject of discussion, decided to take things into their own hands. The language used was filthy and crass, and they not only abused the journalist but also her family, who had no connection whatsoever to that particular tweet or opinion. But then, hey! She played with our emotions, and hence we will put a woman in her rightful place by calling her names.

Things came to a close when a police complaint was filed against the abusive twitter handle and more so when the actor, whose fans created havoc, put forward a statement to the press.

Now, online abuse is not something trivial. Trust me when I say that this is not the first time I am seeing this. One of my close friends went through phases of cyber-stalking and all of us dealt with the stalker who seemed to think that our inboxes are his to spam. Sometimes things go out of hand when the stalker involved decides to present himself in person.

These things happen due to multiple reasons.

  1. The perception that it is the job of a man to teach a woman her rightful place.
  2. The belief that a person will not go to the police for something that happens online.
  3. The wrong notion that there is no evidence for such crimes.
  4. The lack of awareness that these are in fact criminal offences that warrant imprisonment under the law.

People misunderstand the Freedom of Expression that is guaranteed to Indian citizens under the Constitution. It is not the freedom to abuse or sexually harass someone online. It is the freedom granted to critique someone’s work, to walk out of a boring movie or not watch a movie if we do not want to.

It is not anybody’s job to teach a lesson to the world. That said, a woman is as free to be in any place she wants to be, as much as a man. The days are gone when women were treated as second class citizens whose only job was to stay at home and not have a voice. Women of today have a voice, which can be loud. They have the means to drag the perpetrators to court to avenge the distress caused to them if they want to. This is also true for anybody who is subject to online harassment and bullying. There are means to redress the grievance. So do not keep quiet. Do not tolerate this.

Evidence for cyber crimes is accepted in the form of screenshots too. In case that is not possible, the cyber cell also has a qualified team of cyber-forensic experts who can retrieve the lost (deleted) data. So be wary of outraging or venting your emotions online by being abusive. There are adequate provisions in the law that can help people seek help if they are subject to harassment online. Ignoring the taunts, in a way, gives more courage to the bullies.

Hero worship of any form and kind is wrong. They are as human as we are, just a tad more privileged. There is no point in putting anybody on a pedestal. That does not justify a crime done in their name. I am not speaking for the victim or the actor here. The point is that getting abusive in a social space is not the right way to exercise the freedom granted to us. Stripping the dignity of those who do not align with one’s own views is even worse.  We have several severe issues to deal with. Social responsibility is a collective concept. It’s time we call a spade a spade and move on.