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Online Shaming: When Internet Is a Faceless-Mob, out to Get You

Online, what is a funny hashtag for the rest of the mob, is a lived reality for the person behind the hashtag.

Published
Tech News
4 min read
(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Rahul Gupta)

In the 10th century, criminals were dragged onto a public square and shamed as townspeople looked on. However, in the 21st century, crime is not a prerequisite for public shaming.

If the Internet takes a fancy to what you say or who you are, and deems it to be worthy of a trending hashtag or seasonal outrage, your life will be ripped apart in a variety of misguided sense of justice, memes and not-so-funny jokes.

Just ask Jacintha Morris.

Soon after the release of Morris’ song Is Suzanne a Sinner?, she was labelled India’s Taher Shah. An accountant by profession, Morris was bewildered when her son-in-law called her and asked her to take the video down. Apparently, she was being called a sex maniac, a slut, and a crazy woman, reports The Huffington Post.

Online shaming has real time repercussions, ranging from depression, strained family relations, suicidal tendencies and an eternal fear of being Googled. What is a funny, idiosyncratic, angry hashtag for the rest of the mob, is a lived reality for the person behind the hashtag.

Can’t a Girl Ask a Question? #NDTVGirlAsks

Twitter said that menstrual blood is going to my brain, all kinds of things! I was receiving death threats regularly, being called a whore, an anti-national. People might have forgotten the incident, but personally for me, the scars remain. When you have read death threats openly made against you, it is difficult to forget. 
Paroma Ray, Also known as #NDTVGirlAsks

On 16 March 2015, Christine Lagarde, chief of the International Monetary Fund was speaking at an event in the Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi. In the question and answer round, Paroma Ray, a political science student at the college asked her a question.

The question got a good response, I got my answer. I went back home and was packing for a trip to Jaisalmer, when my friend sent me a meme. I laughed it off as satire, only to check much later what was being said about me. And I was shocked. 
Paroma Ray, Also known as #NDTVGirlAsks

For any one who has ever studied economics, Ray’s question was far from stupid. What followed on social media in the next few days, however, exposed the nadir of social media.

There were tweets calling her ‘an NDTV plant’, insulting her intelligence, her college and her family in the crudest, most sexually explicit manner possible. Twitterati took it upon themselves to ‘find’ her, and exulted when they (wrongly) identified an NDTV reporter as her. Old, personal videos were dug up.

The hashtag #NDTVGirlAsks has become an adjective to describe anyone speaking out against Hindu orthodoxy, or patriarchy, or both.

I am still afraid. Thankfully, people don’t instantly recognise me. But the fear remains, especially when you hear about acid attacks and such things. I sometimes think, would this affect my job prospects? I don’t use Twitter. It feels like a really dirty alley to me, wherever I go. 
Paroma Ray, Also known as #NDTVGirlAsks
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Of a Bihar Topper and the Disappearance of Nuance

Ruby Rai was declared a Political Science topper in Bihar, reportedly scoring 444 out of 500 in the Humanities stream. Subsequently, she was filmed telling a media crew about how ‘Prodigal’ Science was ‘all about cooking’. Rai’s comments were featured in newspaper columns, Twitter, Facebook and pretty much everywhere.

The Bihar School Examination Board (BSEB) decided to take legal action against her, called her for a reexamination and has filed an FIR against her. Rai did not appear for her reexamination due to health reasons and is reported to be depressed and away at her family house, according to a report in The Indian Express. From the pride of her village, she has become the laughing stock of the whole world.

But Ruby Rai is not the problem with the Bihar education system. She is a symptom. It is the systemic failure within the BSEB and the Bihar education system which allowed Ruby Rai to fall through the cracks and top the exams. But has any reaction to Rai and her comment brought that out? No, sir.

Because that would have been looking for nuance. On social media.

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When Punishments are Meted Out Publicly

On social media, truth is fickle. As Jasleen Kaur and Sarvjeet Singh realised in 2015. Kaur claimed Sarvjeet made obscene remarks on her.

Jasleen alleged that Sarvjeet made obscene comments about her, and posted a photo of him on Facebook. There was immediate backlash and Singh was virtually lynched with publications calling him a ‘pervert’, ‘harasser’ and ‘lout’. (Photo: Facebook)
Jasleen alleged that Sarvjeet made obscene comments about her, and posted a photo of him on Facebook. There was immediate backlash and Singh was virtually lynched with publications calling him a ‘pervert’, ‘harasser’ and ‘lout’. (Photo: Facebook)

Jasleen was hailed for her courage. Until, Singh retaliated with his version of the truth.

Singh claimed that allegations against him were false and that Jasleen was an AAP worker. (Photo: Facebook)&nbsp;
Singh claimed that allegations against him were false and that Jasleen was an AAP worker. (Photo: Facebook) 

The tide turned. Jasleen Kaur was relentlessly trolled and became a symbol of what happens when men are unfairly accused of sexual assault.

The virtual lynch mob has irrevocably marred their lives forever.

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But why should the Internet care? Social media is public domain. Anyone can say whatever. If you can’t deal with it, go home.

Well, the Internet should care. Because by extension of that argument, there should be no expectation of civility in any public discourse. In politics, in the media, anywhere.

The Internet is becoming an integral part of our lives, and only by virtue of that, it is a space that demands respect, civility and a little sensitivity.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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