Lynched on a virtual landscape

I have never really been a big fan of the comment section although I mostly lure in the comments section below a video or social media  post. It becomes an interesting experience to learn what people across borders think of the same thing we are viewing, especially if they like the similar posts and agree with you . However the internet also keeps breeding a toxic community that spreads hate towards each other. Just recently I watched a Korean pop music video featuring a group called blackpink. There were comments on how much “the girl band   are goddesses, queens, etc.” But I was actually shocked to see the amount of hate comments not towards the girl group in general, but the actual commenters. A harmless “ I do not like their music that much “ is met with a “ you should die” or “ you must be ugly.” Also since these users stay behind keyboards they are excused from using derogatory and inappropriate language. 

I was a victim of a hate comment thread once when I voiced my opinion on a certain stylist’s   fashion. I stated my opinion on how I wouldn’t be caught wearing those outfits since it is not my style. The plethora of hate comments I got after that were deplorable. People couldn’t stand   that I disliked the clothes . It started with people calling me a “Grandpa” for my assumed fashion sense which I chose to ignore. A few hours later I was called names, and people attacked me   personally. This led me to delete my comment in the thread. I don’t post comments anymore in fear of the backlash. But often times I see how a person is dragged for a harmless social media post or sharing their honest opinion.  

This phenomenon has grown so much so that people  are digging up old social media posts of  not just the average person but also celebrities. In 2018 , James Gunn, director of first two  ‘Guardian  of Galaxy’ films recently found himself booted from  the third film by Disney for tweets he  posted years ago about paedophilia , rape, 9/11 and AIDS and the Holocaust .  Despite series of apologies the public would not pardon him . The principle cast  started a campaign to rehire Gunn and expressed hope that ” Americans from across the political spectrum can ease up on the character assassination and stop weaponising mob mentality”.  Camilla Cabello of popular group Fifth Harmony was  cyber bullied because of an old social media post with racist comments for which she apologized.

Twitter   has taken the initiative by announcing the outsourcing of the moderation of speech on its platform.  The new effort aims to “bridge gaps between communities on Twitter“ by having third parties break up “echo chambers “ and  “uncivil discourse” via algorithm based reporting. But this leaves users with even less confidence on the platform, as more arbitrary methods get put in places to punish those who simply want to have conversations and debates.  Facebook has attempted to thread the needle more carefully on free speech concerns, but has similar issues. Instead of these interventions on behalf of pseudo tolerance, these platforms should try to defend the principles on which they are are based, and exercise actual tolerance.

Rather than becoming a “safe space” that allows users to voice their opinions and engage in conversation with people around the  world. However people exploit this power turning it into a lynching ground for people who don’t agree to the majority. The follow, block, and mute functions allow users to create their own safe environment. Social media sites are allowing people to adopt a false sense of self and become influenced by others to the extreme. We have become more vulnerable to every body’s opinions. Either we care too little or too much about our bruised egos, enhanced by our own insecurities. This leads to cyber bullying causing   depression, anxiety, hurt and grief even trauma. 

We may deny it but at some point we have been a part of this mob mentality ourselves. We are living in an age where we are apathetic to people’s   opinions and simultaneously yearn for their attention. Hence, we turn towards social media because it creates lack of personal accountability and anonymity. So we can say whatever we want behind a screen. People even resort to ‘trolling’ instigating online wars and arguments where all sorts of racial, derogatory and inappropriate language is used. A certain lack of humanity and empathy is promoted online because both victim and the cyber bullies are dehumanized by an online identity. They do not see the consequences of their words before posting them.  People behind the screen somehow feel entitled by this advantage and inflate their own egos projecting their ignorant and hateful opinions shaming their victims in public eye without being in the public eye.

Face to face interactions are declining. We are starting to lack empathy as we lose ourselves amidst the sea of the expanding  the virtual reality. We are becoming more and more desensitized to tragedy and people’s feelings. Amidst the sea of the expanding online reality we prefer being armchair critics and keyboard warriors living in our own bubble.

The pressure is building on social media sites to suppress hate speeches and unpleasant user comments. As a result, platforms that once promised open discussions and free speech are turning into snitch societies and mob justice platforms.

Marzuqa Kazi

I am a post graduate student and an avid music and film lover . I have a keen interest in exploring new things .