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Does The New #ChallengeAccepted Hashtag Put The Safety Of 5.4 Million Users At Risk?

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For the past 4 years, a whopping half part of my life has been lived virtually. Come the pandemic, it feels as though I’m living 95% of it virtually and I have never felt more disconnected with my immediate physical reality. And I’m sure I’m not alone in this- we all are spending more time looking at our screens whether for work, education, entertainment, or even health and fitness. Our lived experiences have altered drastically ever since March 2020.

a person working on a laptop, online
Representational image/ Our lived experiences have altered drastically ever since March 2020.

As women, we tend to develop radar for threats quite naturally although there is nothing natural about it. However, when we are living a part of our lives, irrespective of how small or big, online through the advent of social media, it has made me wonder if my radar and on-guard attributes also translate into my online/social media behaviour?

If so, are there other women/non-binary/marginalized persons who feel the same way?

I’m vocal about issues on social media and am also a frequent user of the hashtags, some of the common ones already out there. Other hashtags are an outcome of my own creativity and sassiness. I don’t feel more unsafe or threatened other than the usual watchdog-agencies-are-tracking-my-posts(?).

This is basically what is called ‘hashtag activism- activism went online and connecting the users via hashtags, little to do with the followers we may have.

This brings me to the question of the safety of participating in hashtag activism. The concern for the state agencies that may or may not be tracking/tracing/keeping an eye on hashtag movements is rather narrow as there are also other elements out there, aren’t there?

Why I’ve been more concerned about the state watchdogs is a matter for another day. Today, let’s look at the ongoing #ChallengeAccepted.

Quite a few answers on the ‘why’ have surfaced (the murder of a 27-year-old Turkish woman by her ex-boyfriend and/or the report that 42% Turkish women have suffered from physical and sexual violence).

However, here are some very basic questions that seem to have evaded our collective concern/alertness:

  1. Who started this hashtag?
  2. How and why did this hashtag go viral?
  3. Is it hashtag activism?
  4. If so, why does the message read: “Your turn 🙂 I was careful to choose who I think will meet the challenge, but above all somebody who takes care of her women tribe. We are beautiful the way we are. Post a photo in black and white alone, writing “#challengeaccepted” and mention my name. Identify 50 women to do the same, in private. I choose you because you are beautiful, strong and incredible. Let’s <3 & support each other during these tough times”
  5. Why lend it an air of secrecy?
  6. Why does the message not mention the Turkish women?
  7. How does it help the Turkish women? What are some of the other consequences?
  8. Also, why were (married) women sharing their photos with the same hashtag last month? Is this merely a coincidence? 
A screen-grab of the #challengeaccepted sourced from Instagram.

The #ChallengeAccepted came to me as the text quoted above and may have reached others in other ways and forms. When I thought about writing this article at 4 am last night, Instagram had 4.3 million posts with the hashtag. At 2:30 pm as I write this article, the number has shot up further to 5.3 million posts. And this is just Instagram.

While we all love to be a part of something and something good and righteous, do we unconsciously tend to let our guards down in doing so? In thinking and supporting the Turkish women and/or other women, is our own online safety, especially from hackers, compromised? Are we becoming easily accessible targets for those involved in photo-morphing?

Measures to counter this overlaps with the measures to the menace of fake news which also overlaps with the resolution of consumption of news in the (almost) bygone day and age of print media.

Firstly, nobody really taught us how to use and consume social media. It has largely been a trial-and-error model until we hit an error and we learn. As such, can there be a model we learn to be more cautious and responsible to minimise the risk of error? Or maybe minimising the presence of grey and red collar hackers is the way forward? If so, how and who can keep the activities of red collar hackers in check?

Secondly, similar to scanning the headline, we don’t tend to read further. While we immediately interact with an Instagram post or 280 character tweet, we, more often than not, don’t click on the link to the news article to read further. Further, does hashtag activism translate into a behavioural change in how we treat others and others treat us? Does it translate into on-ground, visible, tangible change in the non-virtual?

Thirdly, how many of us are even aware of the dangers lurking on the internet and to what extent? Our view of the internet needs to broaden from a starter combo pack of – social media + online streaming + research for school and college assignments to also include awareness about the deep web, phishing, dark web, data theft, data mining and illegal data sale.

This is not to blame anyone for not being cautious, as mentioned earlier, there is nothing natural about developing this radar. On the contrary, this is to simply point out the vacuum in easily interpretable and understandable information on cyber-threats and cyber-security. With a big part of our lives lived, the information sought and consumed, ideas exchanged- online; awareness on ‘how-to’ safely interact with and consume content will go a long way in terms of cyber-safety and security.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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