Are you an online bully?

Plabita Baruah

In 1991 when the World Wide Web went into the world, the world actually had no idea where this new technology would take us.  Now three decades later it has become almost impossible to visualize a world without the internet. It has connected the world in unimaginable ways  and with the graph of social media popularity rising almost linearly in the last decade, we have become forever hooked to our screens, spending most time of the day in the vast virtual world confined in our little smartphones or laptops. When the creators of facebook, twitter, whassap etc gifted the world the power to communicate, interact and bond with rest of the world, I am sure they meant well. And all was really well until these mediums were used to keep contact with long lost friends, create friendships, getting to know our fellow humans and keeping a track of each other’s lives without the need to visit them daily.

On one hand as the world of internet bloomed with new features, better connectivity and easier networking but on the other hand the darkness and horror of the virtual world also dangerously mushroomed since its inception. We hear cases of cyberbulling, harassment and online shaming almost everyday and everyday people, especially young people become victims of these horror tales. In today’s era of smartphones, all it takes is just a few seconds to turn someone’s stupid decision into content available for public consumption or to upload an accusatory photo or video of someone for the world to see and judge. On top of that there is a huge army of keyboard warriors always flooding the internet who pick targets, twists facts, fabricate stories and spread rumours about other people and even justifies the need to share them with the world. Adding fuel to the fire, some social media companies even encourage online shaming as more outrage leads to more clicks and eventually more revenue through advertising.  There are websites which strives on publicizing personal chats, photos and other private content of famous people and surprisingly such content gets more hits than any other sites. And then as if public sharing of private data was not enough, to make things worse there are the internet trolls who start hurling abuses with the most hurtful of words at the drop of a hat. These people are mostly anonymous, hiding behind a fake profile, with no purpose of their own life but plenty of free time, free wifi and a sadist obsession and desire to hurt random people they never even met. To err is human but finding happiness in publicizing and brutally shaming the mistakes of others are beyond devil. And you need not even commit a mistake to be bullied by these nasty humans who can make life a living hell for anyone with unsolicitated messages, unpleasant comments, constant stalking and even life threats. It may be your body size, skin color or even personal life choices that may act as a feed triggering these ruthless minds to start typing filthy abuses directed at you.

While these intellectually and emotionally challenged humans find pleasure and entertainment at the expense of another human’s sorrow, the effect on the victims can be devastating. Studies show that humiliation has far more severe effects on the human brain than emotions like anger and happiness and for some people this kind of public humiliation becomes so intolerable that they can’t even imagine staying alive the next day and tragically, some don’t. Cruelty to fellow humans have always existed in this world but amplified, uncontained and permanently accessible online humiliation is like being stabbed with sharp daggers over and over again by millions of people all over the world. It causes low self esteem, depression, anxiety, loneliness leading to numerous health issues, alcohol and drug abuse and even suicidical tendencies in the victims. We have examples from all over the world where people, especially teenagers who have killed themselves for being unable to bear the public humiliation of shared private conversations, private pictures and private videos. And we come across so many examples even in our day to day lives where we meet people whose lives have been devastated by social media.

But this horrific culture of online shaming has to stop.  Everyone using the internet should be made aware of the thin line between healthy debates and unruly abuses. It is high time that hate speech is no longer lightly passed as freedom of speech. When being taught to use the internet, kids should also be taught to think before they type or post. Although cyberbullying happens in the virtual world, it directly points towards the lack of compassion and empathy in our culture and the lack of human values in the real world. We need to realize that those are fellow human beings with feelings; that behind those funny and sarcastic memes and jokes aimed at someone there are families and lives at stake. People feel safe behind their screens and because of this false sense of security; they proceed to commit actions that they wouldn’t do in real life. There should be awareness that there are actually laws for these crimes and everything that one does online can be tracked and every demoralizing comment made can be traced to the person who sent it. It is a responsibility of every human who uses the internet to use it wisely. Sometimes when ten people online shame a victim, one word of empathy from one person is enough to make him/her not give up. Everyone of us is responsible for what kind of content gets more hits on the internet and it is the responsibility of every user to spread positivity over pessimism. There is also much room for improvement for social media giants when it comes to tackling this dangerous trend which should include strict enforcement of rules against threats, harassment, privacy breaches and other online abuses. Everyone deserves to feel safe and respected, in real as well the virtual world and it’s high time to put a firm check on all kinds of online interaction. Concluding in the words of Stephen Marche, the Times essay’s writer, “Never say anything online that you wouldn’t say to somebody’s face”.

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