“I would fuck her so hard that she’s be in a wheelchair”.
This is one of the comments that were posted against Julia Hardy, a writer who works in video games , a male-dominated industry , just because of her gender. This is a primary example of gender based cyber trolling.
Let’s call a spade a spade. Gendered Cyber trolling is more than just trolling. It’s abuse.
The number of people who systematically attack women and gender minorities on the basis of their gender is far too many to report.
Everytime a woman or a gender minority posts something that fires up into a debate, you can see how the comments tend to get sexist and threatening after a while. The point of debate will no longer be what was posted, rather, it will be the ways in which men would like to humiliate or threaten the person in question. The commentators will also get into detailed character assassination of the woman and sometimes graphically describe how they would like to harass the woman with gruesome details.
While US and Australia were topping the list of countries with the moat number of cases against cyber bullying, India has been a front-runner in this since 2018 when it topped the list.
I am a survivor of gendered cyber bullying, where they used or rather targeted my gender . Most women I know have been cyber-bullied as well. But , there is no outrage against this growing mentality that it is okay to cyber bully a gender minority into submission. Since, cyber bullying doesnt leave visible scars like in the case of physical abuse, people seem to foster an indifferent and often tolerable attitude towards this crime. As a society, we are constantly failing new generations of children through this indifferent attitude which tolerates and encourages cyber-bullying.
This thought is what led me to act against this. I have been conducting sessions against gendered cyber bullying in colleges and schools of Kerala. Once while I was researching new case studies on the topic I happened to read the story of Angelina Green, a 14 year old who committed suicide due to cyberbullying in Indiana. Her story, especially the gruesome detail that she decided to end her life by choosing to hang herself from a tree next to her school bus stop so that her bullies could see her lifeless body stayed with me. This story tormented me to no end and I wanted to do more for the cause.
That’s when I started “The Black and Blue Eye Project”. It is a campaign series against cyber bullying which aims at working with internet giants and policy makers in detecting cyber crime on one hand and in preventing cyber crime on the other hand through empathy workshops against cyber-bullying in public spaces. The name as well as the aim of the campaign is to get people to see the hidden bruises and consequences of cyber-bullying. As a first step to that, we organised an exhibition against cyber bullying which showed screenshots of the most horrendous comments showcasing genderered cyber bullying along with paintings of women , children and gender minorities with black and blue eyes. This drove home the point that every rape threat and insensitive comment left a lasting scar on the survivor. We also covered 5 cases of teenage suicide from cyber bullying and got the visitors to pledge action against this crime.
Parents and school going children were our main target group. We gave them measures to prevent their children from becoming a bully by installing apps like Rethink which would act like a Google keypad and send out a prompt when it detects insensitive words/phrases being typed out.
We dealt with a fair amount of criticism for taking action against this crime, where people think it’s an infringement of the abuser’s right to free speech. But those who argue fail to recognise that these public threats and comments contribute to the tolerance of gendered violence and encourage the spread of a toxic mentality which contributes to the numerous instances of acid attacks, harrasment and rapes that we rally against.
So, this Women’s Day, as we talk about the numerous ways in which we can improve technology for women empowerment , let’s also talk about empowering technology to create safer spaces for women , both online and otherwise.