“Go to Porkistan, you bloody traitor.”
“I’d like to see how much far you can open this mouth in real life, hope you’re a screamer.”
Imagine reading this first thing in the morning.
The internet, which is an intrinsic part of our lives, is becoming more of a minefield. Anyone who dares to have an opinion knows the inevitability that is, ‘cyberbullies’ or ‘trolls’. God forbid if you are an independent woman. Rape threats on the house, Madame!
In India, online hate lies in a complex nexus between freedom of expression of diversities and individual integrities. It isn’t easy to deal with people who feel it’s allright to send photos of mutilated female corpses to a woman in order to curb her views. As if that burnt body is supposed to ‘be a lesson’.
Before defining harassment laws, it is imperative to understand the difference between a disgruntled person expressing their own dissent, and an abuser. While the former can be reasoned with in most cases, it’s the latter who creates problems, who digs up your former activities and shows them without context so as to humiliate and control you.
Here are a few ways you can deal with such abusers, without resorting to further abusive behaviour:
There are plugins, where whenever any potential hate speech is generated, the user gets a chance to think over the implications and possibly retract it. Softwares such as Botivist, that turns people into online activists is a step in the right direction. Bots like the one Twitter uses is also helpful. Yet, technology has no use if the force behind it is rife with human bias. If used responsibly, technology can prove beneficial in fostering good online behaviour.
It is true that there are people who are vindictive in nature, and show it at every chance possible. But it’s equally true that people are not born haters. Recent researches show the complex link between trolling, the surrounding hostility in the environment and the natural moods of the person. Also trolling due to peer pressure is another phenomenon, although a bit hard to digest. Understanding the personalities and circumstances might be an effective way to adjust potentially triggering content and identifying the target group of abusers.
Counter-narratives are usually seen as too much work. Ignorance gives haters power, attention gives them validation. Nevertheless, underlying issues need to be addressed. Arm yourself with verifiable facts. Don’t be deterred by counter-claims. Engage in a healthy discussion with the other members without disrupting the previous conversation. People are much more willing to listen to the voice of reason, but outside of conflict. This way you can turn the tables on them without batting an eyelid.
There is certainly more strength in numbers. Create a diverse coalition of allies. Civic groups, law enforcement, psychologists, people who’re well versed in social and political issues. Make a safe space for victims of hate. It helps in isolating the haters who’re actually less in numbers but seem more because of the absence of effective counter-hate strategies. Help empower people and create a community of respectful people with diverse ideologies. Also, people who want to quit abuse need to be helped empathetically, too.
Development of technical skills to use digital technology safely and awareness about the rights on the internet is a good place to start, considering people still don’t know how to use these things effectively. Hence they are more susceptible to online abuse. Developing the ability to find and analyse specific rhetorics and recognising their social and political influence is important too. Creating easily accessible sources in major languages will go a long way in combating the problem.
In common parlance, online harassment is not treated at par with its offline counterpart. You need to call out people and organisations on their disgusting behaviour and report them. Such bodies need to be made who can deal with complaints without coming across as patronising. We need to help create an archive of hate material on the internet and then eliminate it. Law agencies should work in partnership with ethical bodies to have a better handle on things. Don’t let anyone get away with violating your integrity without suffering their comeuppances.
Don’t listen to people who say you need to grow a pair or stop being a sensitive snowflake. Online hate is no trifling matter and nothing that is a price of visibility on the net. Don’t let haters get to you. Continue doing what you do best and what you believe in. That’s one of the best ways to get back to all those trolls like a boss.
Kill them with kindness, not with hate.