For you!

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

CY­BER BUL­LY­ING has been much in the news of late. And it spawned a fresh set of sto­ries af­ter the wife of the Re­pub­li­can con­tender for the US Pres­i­dency, Me­la­nia Trump, gave a ro­botic stump speech to an­nounce that she would work on com­bat­ting cy­ber bul­ly­ing if she ever be­came First Lady. Once we had stopped point­ing and laugh­ing – and ask­ing her if she had ever met her hus­band, the In­sul­ter-In-Chief, Don­ald Trump – it was dif­fi­cult to dis­agree with the sub­stance of what Me­la­nia said.

You only have to spend ten min­utes on the In­ter­net to re­alise what a hot­bed of ha­tred it has be­come. Clearly, the anonymity that the Net of­fers does some­thing strange to peo­ple. It brings forth their worst in­stincts. It en­cour­ages them to spew abuse and in­sults from their safe havens in front of

Like most women who have an on­line pres­ence, I have been sub­jected to my fair share of cy­ber bul­ly­ing over the years. The abuses re­mained much the same. They were al­ways some vari­a­tion on call­ing me a ‘pros­ti­tute’, wish­ing that I would be ‘raped’ (ex­cept that I was too unattrac­tive for any man to bother), call­ing me fat or ugly (or both), ah well, you get the drift. But over time my way of cop­ing with the steady stream of vit­riol did evolve and change.

My ini­tial re­sponse to all the sex­ist abuse on such plat­forms as Twit­ter was to hit back hard. I would re­ply to ev­ery abu­sive tweet and tie my­self up in fu­tile ex­changes that did noth­ing other than ex­as­per­ate, in­fu­ri­ate, and even de­bil­i­tate me. Af­ter a few months of this, I re­alised that what they say about wrestling with pigs is true: you both get dirty but only the pig en­joys it.

All I was really do­ing with my in­stant re­sponses and cut­ting repar­tee was feed­ing the beast. I was just en­cour­ag­ing bad be­hav­iour in­stead of cut­ting it off. I was giv­ing cy­ber bul­lies the space to func­tion and thrive in­stead of cut­ting off their oxy­gen sup­ply.

So, I de­cided to change tack. Now, in­stead of re­ply­ing to these an­gry cy­ber war­riors I would just draw at­ten­tion to their il­lit­er­ate rants in a suit­ably high-minded man­ner. Thus be­gan a brief phase when I would retweet the most vile tweets with a pithy com­ment like “Your mother would be so proud of you”. The hope was to name and shame the most vi­cious of­fend­ers so that they thought twice about us­ing lan­guage like this again.

I know, silly me. What was I think­ing? All I did achieve by retweet­ing the mes­sages of these trolls, who some­times had less than a hun­dred fol­low­ers, was al­low them ac­cess to a larger au­di­ence on my time­line. And boy, did they revel in the at­ten­tion this got them!

It was time to roll out an­other strat­egy – and this one has served me well to this day. It’s called Zero Tol­er­ance. I block any­one who is abu­sive to­wards me. I block those who bully and abuse oth­ers. I block those who spout com­mu­nal non­sense on my time­line. I block those who retweet this kind of non­sense. It is an end­less process; block a dozen trolls and a hun­dred oth­ers spring forth to take their place. But de­spite the oc­ca­sional mo­ments of de­spair, I keep at it.

Is it a vi­able so­lu­tion to cy­ber bul­ly­ing? Of course not. But it is a good start to keep­ing cy­ber bul­lies out of my space. My logic is sim­ple: I would not tol­er­ate this kind of be­hav­iour from peo­ple in real life; so why should I tol­er­ate it on the Net? Any­one who be­haved like that in my home would not be in­vited back. So, why would I al­low such louts on my time­line, which is my vir­tual draw­ing room?

Which is why I don’t have much use for Me­la­nia Trump’s claims of com­bat­ting cy­ber bul­ly­ing. If she can’t deal with the bully in her bed, what hope is there for her tak­ing on those hid­ing in the dark shad­ows of the Net?

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