Social media collectivism and its dangers aren’t something we are unaware of, and yet, we keep falling into its trap time and again.
The latest incident was the Shivani Gupta case, where a middle-aged woman, Soma Chakraborty, was taped hurling horrific comments about how the girls were “asking to get raped.” She linked their invitation to such a heinous crime to the dresses they were wearing.
The initial social media outrage was heartening. It was reassuring to see people coming together in support of the young women. Solidarity, however, soon devolved into harassment of a different kind. Soma was bullied, rape threats were sent to her (the irony!), her husband was publicly shamed, and her sons branded as rapists.
The troll brigade even found a woman by the same name and harassed her until her daughter posted on social media clarifying that her mom wasn’t the woman in the video. A week ago, Chakraborty issued an apology on Facebook, and many called it a victory.
But was it just a Pyrrhic victory?
Sense of belongingness and herd-mentalities
Chakraborty’s statements in the video were undoubtedly appalling, but such words aren’t really unfamiliar.
Some of our leading political leaders and even our own communities have repeatedly put the blame on women for being raped. They continue to ask women to dress appropriately, be home on time, not drink, steer clear of risky situations and 101 other ways to avoid getting raped.
However, changing what seems to have become our culture will take a lot of effort and time. And being a social media activist, while being ignorant of the consequences of our actions, cannot really bring the change we intend to see.
In general, calling out people on social media when their views are different from ours, is the easiest way to shame them. It is also the fastest and most convenient way to enter into a community we want to belong. This is a signifier of a non-critical herd-mentality and is rife with pitfalls.
If you want to be loved by the liberals, bash anyone who supports or seems to support the right-wing. If you want to be the right-wing’s favourite child, shame the Communists. And people who critique without political prejudice, God bless their souls!
One of the major problems is that social media as a platform doesn’t really discriminate between facts and opinions. But, hey! when the majority believes in it, does that distinction really even matter? That’s the engine of propaganda.
Let us not forget the Jasleen Kaur case, where Kaur allegedly accused Sarvjeet Singh of eve-teasing her at a Delhi crossing and uploaded his picture on social media. Despite the fact that the matter was still in court, netizens were quick to form their own judgments based on confirmatory biases formed through (mis) information being propagated on social media. Some reportedly labelled Singh as a “harasser” and a “pervert” while others sent abusive messages to Kaur.
The final judgment on the matter is yet to come, but we’ve already arrived out our own verdicts – seeking comfort in the knowledge that we know better.
Social media collectivism, which starts out as a manifestation of solidarity, often morphs into bullying. This has been the general pattern.
The veil of anonymity
Central to this phenomenon’s unchecked furtherance is the anonymity social media allows, which has been criticised profusely as it gives rise to online trolling. But, interestingly, in cases like Soma’s, people want to go out of their way to be identified as those on the side of justice. And they often go to every extent to prove their point.
Public shaming is not new. But public shaming on social media makes the humiliation more extensive and horrifying as the message spreads like wildfire. Inherent in this public flagellation is the misplaced notion that shaming someone actually makes them feel ashamed. Shaming someone is far from being a reformative recourse to one’s transgressions. Often, it has the complete opposite effect. Because of its punitive nature, It can breed further resentment and entrench pre-existing notions.
In the recent Gurgaon incident, which could have been used as an opportunity to have a productive debate on misogyny and rape culture, we resorted to public shaming using the same devices of patriarchy that we claim we are against.
We need to put more thought into how we engage with perceived transgressions of others on social media. We need to learn the difference between the urgent and the important. Try and resist the reactionary impulse of responding while being emotionally charged. Instead of aiming to eliminate the symptom, help people learn about the underlying cause of the problem. Back your opinions with reliable statistics and research, and then let people decide for themselves.
This is not a call to ban social media. This is a call to make better use of it to curb what is wrong in our society.
A 24-year-old postgraduate in political science, Riya Roy leads a global team of writers for iuventum. She finds comfort in poetry.
Featured image credit: Pixabay