Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words.. well words can wound you more! Journalists are immune to the brickbats hurled at them from time to time. But being a journalist, and a woman is a different ball game altogether. Simple ideological differences can translate into online slander, trolling, stalking, and even rape threats. Online violence is now deemed as the new pandemic, with journalists battling right in the frontline.
While it is said that online platforms have empowered us all, in reality, it has significantly disempowered many women journalists from opining on controversial issues. With easier access online, trolls are even more empowered to send violent threats, morphed images, and distasteful memes to defame the image of the women in the public eye. In a populist and authoritarian regime, with shrinking spaces of opposition, women have to first battle misogyny before fighting for their right to dissent. At each and every step these journalists are reminded that their status as woman supersedes all their other professional roles, thus. Reducing their identity. In such a scenario, voice is a privilege which only some people in the society are allowed to have.
Journalists like Rana Ayyub often talk about the added identity of being a Muslim along with being a woman journalist as a deterrent, as she is often on the receiving end of misogynistic and Islamophobic libels. She even opened up about taking therapy in order to deal with the psychological trauma these threats cause. The more assertive a woman is, the more threatened she is made to feel. Comedian Agrima Joshua was met with ghastly videos and posts made from people on how they would assault her, because of her political views. Such posts have the potential to traumatize the individual, as well as the audience in general, for long. On the other hand, journalists are even put on the stand if they do not talk about a certain issue. Jameela Jamil, the British actor from Indo-Pak origin who is usually vocal about social issues recently posted about refraining from speaking about the Farmer’s protest in India, as in the past she has faced adverse consequences that have affected her mental health deeply and doesn’t wish to go through the same. Earlier when Pop singer Rihanna had tweeted about the said issue, she was publicly vilified by trolls, and the image of her bruised face from domestic violence went viral, with the caption ‘she deserved it’.
Content creator Moose Jattana recalls how whenever she starts an Instagram Live, an army of trolls arrive hurling abuses and comments attacking her character and background. She feels sometimes these comments are not a reaction to any particular stance, but simply arrive from a place of misogyny, knowing there will be no consequences as such. These are an online version of the eve-teasing of women in the physical space. Recently, the renowned Bollywood reporter, Miss Malini sparked an online campaign called ‘#IgnoreNoMoreOnline’ to stand up against Internet bullies. These trolls are fulfilling their purpose of making women rethink before opining online, and ultimately diminishing their space in public discourse.
The first step to combat this issue is to acknowledge its presence, and not let it slide. Just because these women are out in the public sphere, it doesn’t give any person the right to invade their space with violence. Violence in every form, whether online or offline is deplorable. Strict action must be taken legally against online trolls. Also, due to masked identities online, it is easy for people to get away with libel. Social media security measures must be made stricter to identify and remove hate comments. Disagreements in a tasteful manner should be encouraged. Even political parties must be held accountable for the miscreants of their party. The real reason behind this is still misogyny and patriarchy which must be assessed at all levels. Online space is merely a reflection, if not an amplification, of our offline realities. It is the mentality that needs to be fixed in order to create a safe space for women to participate in public discourse.