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“Social Media Sites Have Long Been A Haven For Unabashed Bigotry And Racist Rhetoric”

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They might refashion their logos for a short stint, but social media sites have long been a haven for unabashed bigotry and racist rhetoric. Facebook and WhatsApp groups championing hatred and purporting propaganda have even played decisive roles in shaping governments and tipping the consensus in favour of fascist ideals. Unfortunately, the inevitable-yet-diminutive regulation of misinformation and hate speech on social media in recent times might prove to be too little, too late.

Under the promise of “free speech”, racism has lost all its veiled nuance: bigots can spew vile platitudes online in the garb of anonymity. In the past few years, however, anonymity has not been a factor in espousing problematic opinions — many have embraced their hateful views publicly and wear them like a badge of honour.

a person holding a phone in their hand
Social media has played an increasingly crucial role in shaping public perception, a role often overshadowing major parliaments of the world. Representational Image

Yet, social networking sites have done little to upset the ilk of the alt-right and have instead lent them a tacit seal of approval. Giving unbridled xenophobia and bigotry a platform is not in any means a display of neutrality. A bid to listen to “both sides” of the argument is disconcerting and even dangerous as we offer the same credence and plausibility to a side vehemently arguing the denial of basic human rights of the other. Lack of condemnation and brittle reprimands to prejudice only empower the people entrenched in these views, who proudly indulge in them in the real world.

In many countries, perpetrators of white supremacist attacks have found their roots in online communities, who even take to the web to broadcast their atrocities. Social media was meant to be a tool to mobilise change and diversify freedom of expression. It went from a means of emancipation to a hostile environment replete with trolls parroting venom, a microcosm of the real world.

While a lax response to hate speech moderation can be attributed to an extended indifference by private companies; international purview and jurisdiction cannot be exempt from blame. Social media currently enforces appropriate content through a combination of artificial intelligence, user reporting and a dedicated staff of content moderators who are encumbered by a high volume of disturbing posts. Social media companies’ opacity regarding censorship and inappropriate content is matched by digressing global policies to tackle contemporary evil.

In the United States, internet companies are largely protected from liability when it comes to a harmful or objectionable speech by their users due to the broad umbrella of the First Amendment and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996.

In contrast, Germany paid due diligence to its history and implemented some of the most stringent laws against online hate speech in the world. Many have ostracised the German model as hyper-vigilant and a form of overzealous policing, as it supersedes public authority and mandates private corporations as arbitrators when it comes to doling out censorship. Such complications have made it difficult to implement a uniform framework and safeguard users from threats of conservative extremism.

Despite the certain role played by social media in catalysing violence against immigrants and minorities, a lack of global cooperation and the reluctance of social media sites to alienate authoritarian governments has been a bitter betrayal to the camaraderie and global citizenry these machinations seek to serve. While these sites have drawn public ire due to their ignominious privacy violations, the same cannot be stated for their role in galvanising racial and religious hatred.

However, with a recent spur in the anti-racism movement, several companies have pulled their advertisements from Facebook, demanding greater regulation of hate speech, while Twitter has begun to flag tweets for spreading misinformation — not even sparing the United States President Donald Trump. These changes are welcome and a hopeful reckoning, ushering in the era of accountability and a virtual experience free from venomous tirades and hate-mongering.

Social media has played an increasingly crucial role in shaping public perception, a role often overshadowing major parliaments of the world. Free and inconsequential dissemination of actionable content and death threats are not fringe elements, rather a threat to democracy and safe expression.

World governments need to work in tandem with these sites to establish a legal framework protecting almost 2.95 billion users while maintaining electoral integrity, user privacy and democratic principles.

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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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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