By Attiya Karodia
Monica Lewinsky talked to a captivated audience at this years’ Cannes, about the brand that she built out of what she had to endure living in the shadow of “someone else’s headline” and concluding in a call to end or at the very least protect victims from the acts of cyberbullying. Then, one of Buzzfeed’s writers penned a piece about the amount of hate-mail and threatening comments she receieved following an article about her dislike for The Simpsons.
The ‘why’ isn’t hard to pull apart at the seams, especially when we live in an age where the sheer number of people interacting over the internet from countless parts of the world renders us faceless even when we have legitimate profile photos. Sitting behind a screen tricks you into feeling untouchable, and thus able to be candid, hurtful and say the things you would normally say behind someone’s back to their digital face. We don’t read articles picturing the writer, or an Instagram superstar as being an actual person. Seeing so much content which has been digitally generated and is curated on pieces of inhuman technology has influenced us to view everything beyond our home screens as barely real and therefore, immune to our scathing words.
But the concept of Cyberbullying and the like isn’t limited to readers alone.
A few weeks ago, South African blogger Zahrah Perry put up a post which was intended to call out the Muslim folk who undermined her for not observing all the acts of Ramadaan (the fasting month) but what should have been an articulate piece of writing ended up being cynical, sarcastic and just as judgemental and critical as the people she was targeting. What resulted from what should have been phrased better was a full blown chaos of cyberbullying (to an extent) along with some reasonable reactions to what wouldn’t have passed an editors desk but could obviously go up on a blog.
Without the filters that stop us from offending people on the street, an editor to tell us what is and isn’t neutral or a restraint on our mediums of expression, the global population spends a fair percentage of their lives criticising, complaining about and bullying others.
Bloggers, journalists and Social Media celebs have just as much responsibility as readers to ensure that their material is within ethical lines, which is something that obviously cannot be implemented but should be considered for credibility’s sake. Defamation or stereotyping from a writer is no better than the troll who tells an Instagram star how ugly she is, neither is pretty, neither is okay.
As a writer, people opposing your opinions is one thing, but being called a slut or worse is in an unfamiliar ball-field. In South Africa alone, 1 naked picture (which can be released against your will) can ruin a career in unimaginable ways, from Puleng’s nudes going viral and scores of people calling her a whore to the most recent local female police officer’s naked photos which have people asking for her badge to be taken, it’s obvious that the public is always at the ready to tear someone down- more often that not, a woman.
The ease of expression at our finger tips is proving to be a blessing and a curse, but where do you draw the line between criticism and torture?