Is The Virtual World Safe For Women?
Technology has done a great deal for us in the past 2-3 decades, making life more efficient and connected in each possible way. It has not only assisted us in our daily task but has also made us more connected with our peers and the rest of the world. Social media and online platforms have integrated the entire world in a way far beyond anyone could have imagined a century ago.
These platforms not only make connectivity easier, but also give us a platform to express and share views, ideologies and new discoveries. Information has never been easier to spread and use. We carry all the information we could ever need right in our pockets and everyone is just a touch away.
While such connectivity has it's obvious advantages, it also makes us so connected that misuse of information and breach of privacy are also a click away. While such threats are now a common knowledge, people often hesitate from accepting that even the internet is not an equal platform for men and women. More and more studies and research are showing that women are more prone to such abuse and are also more wary of using these platforms as freely as they want to due to fear of harassment and backlash. Attacks and abuse online can include stalking, rape threats, doxing, the non consensual disclosure of sexually explicit images and videos, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, and a barrage of other harassment with the intent to shame and silence. These threats often even turn into real life violence and can lead to many misfortunes.
This harassment can take the form of:
1) Inappropriate messages, comments on posts or pictures which are vulgar or inappropriate.
2) Threats of violence or death.
3) Blackmailing or other hate related actions.
4) Recording or photographing someone without their knowledge.
In the recent past, journalists like Barkha Dutt, student leaders like Shehla Rashid, and actors like Swara Bhaskar have faced horrific online abuse. Such abuse seems to be even more prominent and uncalled for when women express them politically and actresses are often targeted on their appearances or outfits. This not only reflects the deep rooted misogyny in our culture but also reflects the lack of equality even in the freedom of expression and thought. Though such incidents are countless and each as disgusting as the one before, women should not shy away from expressing themselves in which ever way they choose, in real life and on online platforms. While exercising your right to freedom of expression, keeping certain precautions in mind can make life easier for anyone trying to protect their privacy online.
1) Be careful about the personal details you share
Expressing yourself has nothing to do with sharing your mobile number or address online. ensure that no such unnecessary and private detail is shared online for such information is very easy to misuse. Another way to protect your information is to keep your profile private. Some might not want to go ahead and change their privacy settings as once private your posts get private too, reducing your access to people. One way to have both of them is to create multiple accounts, one for a more private audience and one for the public eye.
2) Don't hesitate and report any harassment
All social media platforms provide options to report any profile that indulges in questionable behavior. If reported often, these profiles are shut down or the posts are deleted. While such measures might seem very mellow and naive, take all measures you can to remove such negativity from your life. Most of the time, trollers and abusers are bored individuals having nothing better to do and giving them attention only encourages them further. Share their profile with all your peers and family members to ensure their profile gets reported multiple times and they can be publicly held responsible for their actions.
3) Seek Help From Police
While online harassment might seem like nothing serious as no physical harm is being done, it can often lead to Emotional and psychological distress and you can report such activities to the police with relevant proof in form of the messages or threats received. Cyber bullying and stalking is a criminal offense and is punishable by fine and for any subsequent conviction imprisonment up to five years.
4) Talk to an adult or a Friend
More than often, the person facing the harassment is a young adult or a teenager and may feel targeted and self conscious even after the hurtful comments have stopped. Address the issue and seek help from an adult in understanding the problem and finding a solution to it. No matter how many people may attack you online, do not doubt yourself or your thoughts and do not let them silence you.
While browsing online one often comes across various articles, posts or pictures which can either be hurtful or differ from your own opinion. While the practice of free speech is not only healthy but also necessary for a democracy to work, being respectful of other's views even when you do not agree with them is something we all need to learn and practice. There is a respectful way of putting forth your point of view about any issue being discussed but before learning to form and express opinions one needs to learn how to be respectful to a man, woman or any other gender.
While dealing with online harassment we need a collective effort of the public, government and co-operations. The public needs to hold online bullying as a serious offense and try to not only stop people from taking part in such activities but also be conscious of their own actions. The government needs to make strict laws against online harassment of women and men and make reporting of such incidents easier and quicker. All online platforms should also create helplines and options to report and block certain profiles and should take prompt action against any such activities. We need to recognize that online harassment is as harmful as physical harassment and conscious efforts against both are necessary.
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