“If you know Niraj Dave, Nikhil Dadhich and Akash Soni,” says TV anchor Ravish Kumar in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “then please ask them if they are planning to kill me.”
The letter is a follow-up to Kumar’s Facebook post where he talks of a WhatsApp group that repeatedly adds him (and others, such as Barkha Dutt) in order to abuse and threaten. Even when he leaves the group, Ravish said, they add him back on and continue the abuse.
Kumar and Dutt are not isolated victims of abusive social media groups. To cite just a few recent examples from an overflowing collection, Quint reporter Deeksha Sharma was targeted for her criticism of a sexist rap song; Times of India reporter Rosamma Thomas received threats on WhatsApp for publishing an article critical of Modi’s crop insurance scheme. A Scroll story speaks of various journalists in the Delhi/NCR region being threatened. AR Meyyammai, who wrote a story detailing child abuse in a Tamil Nadu temple, and her editor have been at the receiving end of threats.
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I saw the photo first, me in a bloody wash of red with “RACIST” pulsing over my face. A couple of clicks brought me to this:
“In the darkest shadow of Bloomberg’s glossy office building in Manhattan, you may find a woman by the name of Dune Lawrence—a ‘journalist’ who has built a career on writing salacious articles about China.”
That was my introduction to TheBlot, a website I hope you’ve never heard of. The article went on and on: I’d been kicked out of China for poor job performance and eked out a living on minimum wage. My appearance was ravaged by “years of consuming hormone-packed fried chicken and stressing over money.” Now, I’d found a way to save my sinking career by writing negative articles about China and taking kickbacks from short sellers. In a cinematic scene set at Kentucky Fried Chicken, this Internet version of me laid out a strategy: “ ‘Bashing the Chinese could be a profitable niche for me,’ Lawrence said to a source while biting off a juicy chicken leg quarter at KFC. ‘The Chinese don’t vote, the Chinese don’t sue people, they just sit there taking the s—. How much better can it get? I am making a living out of it!’ ”
It was difficult for me to keep reading. In addition to all the lies, the story was laced with creepy sexual imagery: I’d had my “panties ripped off” and was like “a dog wagging her tail trying to attract a mating partner.” I felt overwhelmed; it was as if something heavy were pressing into my forehead. I wanted to fight back, and I also wanted to hide. I haven’t been able to do either.
Read this Bloomberg piece by Dune Lawrence, on how online trolls destroy lives and careers, now.
As citizens, so much of our political conversation – perhaps the majority of it – happens on social media these days. If social media really is the awakening of a global consciousness – us all becoming one gigantic brain – then it is little wonder that this birth of a 7 billion-part “us” is, sometimes, terrifying. Like some bewildered Frankenstein’s monster, waking up on the slab and lashing out, not knowing the power of its new arms and legs.
In order that this fabulous, awe-inspiring beast do no harm, we need to establish some rules for global communication and activism, so that the same mistakes are not made over and over again. So that going online doesn’t, some days, feel like walking into a zoo that’s been set on fire, with penguins attacking lions, gnus trampling on hippos, and a couple of unhappy llamas in the corner, crying, “I just wanted to show everyone a picture of my lunch! I am excited about avocados! I do not like all this anger! I am going to hide under my table!”
Thus Caitlin Moran, who on the back of that set-up provides a guide to how to win arguments online without acting like a dick.