Online hate comments targeting women and the tendency of ridiculing them against posts on Facebook are on the rise. Both known and unknown netizens are being subject to strange streams of comments that seek to denigrate them in the virtual space.
Though these events transpire on the virtual space, the hatred is real! The words that gratuitously spill onto the comment boxes strongly reflect the misogynistic and sexist nature of the commenters. Sometimes most comments are out of context and are driven by the desire to degrade the person they choose to go after.
For example, when Bangladesh lost a cricket match against India two years back, netizens flooded the players Facebook page with hate comments. Surprisingly most of them were reproachful to Shakib's wife Shishir after the defeat.
They even went on accusing her for not wearing a burka and taking selfie with Shahrukh Khan which they believed to have contributed to the defeat.
Why these people got so mad at Shishir who had nothing to do with the sport? To understand that one has to understand the concept of misogyny and sexism.
Understanding misogyny and sexism
Misogyny, in simplest words, refers to prejudice against women and sexism directs to the gender stereotypes prevalent in society.
A misogynistic or sexist attitude refers to the approach where people always find a way to accuse or belittle women with a view to creating an adverse milieu for them by making obscene remarks about their faces, bodies, or may be even education and attitude.
The social media platforms, being an open dais, has become a place for everyone to voice their opinion.
So it comes with a certain peril that includes online harassment.
While speaking about the misogynist's mental makeup psychiatrist Mekhala Sarkar said, "They have grown up in a society where women are presented in a negative light, which they experience from childhood. This influences their interactions and behaviour in later life."
She also thinks that other than that an attraction towards the opposite gender which cannot be resolved easily in our society also leads to negative reaction sometimes.
Anyone can get abused online irrespective of their gender. The problem is that, abuse directed towards women are gendered in nature. They are sexist or misogynistic most of the times. This is why they are counted as irrelevant and do not add any value.
The Business Standard takes a hard look at these people who go on making offensive remarks online against women to figure out the mind-set behind the mask.
A closer look into the situation
The Business Standard team started their analysis by reading the comment boxes of around 20 Facebook pages of celebrities and various groups. After scanning some of the most toxic words aimed at Safa Kabir, Mithila, Porimoni and others on Facebook we decided to follow the people whose derogatory comments stung the most. To our surprise, we found that these people apparently lead a normal life.
Their profiles, information, activities are as regular as anyone. They also have family, relationship and friends. They are fond of music, movies and series. Some of them are religious too. Some of them have strong political affiliation and continue to toe a certain line of skewed thinking.
It seems that they are playing multiple roles in their lives – no one knows how they reconcile their repulsive comments online and the actual role as family persons.
A look into Porimoni's Facebook page lead us to a young college student named Iftehar Fahim Jihad.
Porimoni is a young Bangladeshi actor known for her acting skill, hard work and tender face. But the comments on her page is no way related to her actual expertise. To wit, one comment on her fashion shoot where she reveals her legs are laden with sexual reference but together they makes want to consult a linguist to parse the sentence.
We approached the above person from an account named Rokibul Islam to enquire why he made such comment on such an open platform.
It was revealed that the person does not consider it to be any serious offense and thinks it justified keeping in mind the nature of Porimoni's picture.
Anyone willing to explore further can google search with Porimoni's name, the very first suggestions google provides also brings forth none of her qualifications but an array of scandals which is a complete humiliation to her talent.
On the other hand, a probe into Jihad's profile revealed that he comes from a well off family and is a college student (if the given information is real).
A young boy who is a fan of Linkin Park and Sakib Al Hasan also follows a number of female actors and Islamic scholars on the side.
At his age he should have been full of zest for life, instead he is spending time making inappropriate comments online.
As the conversation between Rokibul Islam and Jihad continued, a little later Jihad said "sorry" for making such comment. Though the problem does not end here, since he is not the lone shark in the virtual ecology.
A brief conversation with some of the men habituated to post offending comments on Facebook revealed that they think that they have a say on how Porimoni or any other women will dress up or what pictures they would upload. If it happens otherwise, they own the right to dictate them or wield them.
In the fluid space of the net, a school boy can belittle artiste Rafiath Rashid Mithila who is much older than him, an uneducated young man can degrade a university student, and a retired senior citizen can abuse a school girl who is probably his granddaughter's age.
Who falls victim to such virtual abuse?
Porimoni and the celebrities are not the only ones who fall victims to such virtual abuses.
The Business Standard was on the trail of a few public groups like food bloggers or animal lovers of Bd and talked to a number of women regarding this issue on the net.
From celebrity to a regular girl, regardless of their age and social position, anyone can become victims of online bullying or harassment.
After taking stock of the nature of the comments one is able to make categories – there are straight-cut vulgar comments, there are memes with unhealthy sexual connotations, and there are some that are lewd limericks. They all have one thing in common, they are volleyed at women.
Even the most innocuous post cannot escape the notice of these irrational netizens. A food review on foodbank page invited comments that sought to demean the women who made the post. And there were no short supply of explicit sexual innuendos here as well.
Something similar happened when a girl made an adoption post in a dog lovers group.
Seeking anonymity, one of the victims of similar incident shared her experience with The Business Standard.
She stated, "Once I posted on a public group seeking for an information. Strangers came in and started making fun of me in comment box. Men, whom I have never encountered in my life started giving me suggestions about life."
She also informed that after the incident a lot of unknown men sent her friend requests and started knocking her in message box. Since then she has become so concerned that she has withdrawn from making Facebook posts.
What do the statistics say?
In the cybercrime department of Dhaka Metropolitan police, 100 cases and 566 allegations were filed for online harassment in 2017, which included hacking, bullying and some other offenses. They created a graph with the cases in hand which showed that 522 of the victims were women.
Critics are considering this as an extension of the misogynistic approach the world has seen in the real world. The fact is that it is easier to remove their trace online compared to real life. Again, there is little or no scope of meeting them in person, let alone any scope for corrective measures, since some experts feel that many were wearing multiple masks.
This reminds us of Madhumita Pandey, a researcher in India, who interviewed over 100 rapists in Delhi Tihar Jail. She found the result to be scary as most of the offenders did not even think that what they did was a crime!
The online offenders' crime may not always be as severe as rape. But having misplaced notion of right and wrong, being unware of one's limits while interacting with others, the instinct of domination are dangerously at work.
The Business Standard wishes to continue the investigation into this issue. Keep an eye on our pages.