When The Media Turned On JNU Students, I Saw The Full Force Of Online Hate

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It was less than a week after the infamous “JNU Incident” of February 9, 2016, when alleged ‘anti-national’ slogans were raised on campus. Media channels broadcasted multiple, conflicting and distorted version of the same event. And when I made multiple Facebook posts on the matter, responses varied between “I had so much respect for you, I thought you were smart,” to “I regret that I even taught you.”

After recovering from the initial anger and embarrassment, I needed to find validation with those who supported the students, enlisting close relatives to check on what other family members thought of me and the topic, and then to moderate my ties with everyone based on their Facebook posts on the issue.

Why was this so important? In the aftermath of the incident, students watched in horror as the ramifications became clear. In addition to the reputation of notoriety we obtained as ‘JNU students’, and the threats that were made to our safety, the backlash on social media occupied us for months. For politically conscious non-activist students of the recent times, this was probably the apex of politicisation that prompted steady engagement as social media warriors to salvage Jawaharlal Nehru University’s legacy. The trend was to largely share a positive depiction of the incident and stories by some section of the electronic and print media, desperately vying for the attention of all those who were in their Facebook friends list to peruse through and then commence a war on the comment section with those who didn’t.

With every post I made, it was painful to come across adverse opinions from my family and friends. Intriguingly, as much as these comments in my posts led to estrangement, the online backlash took a more dangerous turn. Our comments on public news articles and on posts of prominent student leaders’ got responses threatening rape and acid attacks. That led to them sending threatening messages to me personally on Facebook, and the fear psychosis grew when one of them identified my hostel.

This is where Online Hate transcended the managed quarters of anonymity and became a reality. The ability to incite on unverified narratives, where people cannot gauge nuances and your opinions are easily mistaken to being overwhelmed with hate coming from all quarters require strength. It also invites the need for introspection on our orientation of responses. While the right to express one’s views on one’s social media forum remains, doesn’t it occur to everyone that it is still better to reach out to clarify and debate things through with the value of civility in discourse rather than confront on assumptions?

Very few asked me what exactly happened. Most of the unpleasant encounters were based on the identity of being a JNU student. Did they themselves never face hate on what they had written? Did they ever not get easily misunderstood? Did it ever occur that a civil conversation over comments can take place? While debating to come to a middle ground is not the aim anymore, and to derive new insights has long been forgotten, how has the need to comment obscenely on posts you don’t agree with gain such applause? How did one even intend to spend time trolling in an exhaustive manner?

The personal impact of seeking validation and designating enemies and friends based on one opinion on an issue was heavy. More importantly, how do people forget before posting hateful comments that there are multiple realities, multiple opinions and one cannot fight against them all? Have civility and the need to clarify disappeared in the era of Comment Section warriors? Has hate become normalised to the extent that it overrides the right to air views? Online Hate is unmoderated and overwhelming due to the fact it gives access to multiple people and their actual views. It creates pages that randomly take up and doctor posts without consent, and it invites myriad anonymous accounts to attack users online. This has become the norm, where the hate impairs us to feel secure in expressing ourselves, reinforces the insecurity we live with as women (in the physical space and in cyberspace) and reminding us how trolls closer to the present dispensation wield enough power to impact one’s career, one’s rights to differ/dissent, and impose the kind of conformity they want that is detrimental to us an individuals.