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I started a Facebook page for online harassment survivors

If Varnika Kundu’s cyber stalking case left you shaken, you need to know social activist Pranaadhika Sinha Devburman’s story about why she launched a platform to publicly shame perpetrators of online abuse

Kaushani Banerjee 22 August 2017, 7:10 PM
T2 Diaries
Social activist Pranaadhika Sinha Devburman took it upon herself to fight online bullying

Social activist Pranaadhika Sinha Devburman took it upon herself to fight online bullying

I didn’t create a Facebook page to highlight cyber bullying on a whim. It wasn’t a random decision either. It was something I felt really strongly about. I was personally banned from posting on Facebook about four times simply because I had shared screenshots of a man who issued public rape threats against me. I made up my mind to talk about it and hear from women who have faced similar issues. And, boy, was there an outpouring of support!

Cyber bullying is, essentially, an issue that needs not only awareness and legal remedy under the Indian Penal Code, but also needs to be discussed openly among all those who use the Internet. And I've been accosted by all kinds of online creeps you can imagine. One particular man has been harassing me non-stop for 2 years. His threats range from "I have lovesex feelings for you" to "m******** I will slash/kill you" when I ignored him.

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Another person sends my friends messages about me after being ignored. If he doesn't like me, apparently nobody else should. If this was not enough, some of these assailants went ahead and created fake profiles with pictures of my family members.

When I’d had enough dealing with online threats and abuse, I decided to fight it and give it back to them online. I call these online offenders 'Shontus' and started the Facebook page ‘Shontu: United against Online Harassment’ a few months ago.

Our first Facebook page was shut down because Facebook appeared to think that talking about cyber bullying was a greater crime than cyber bullying itself (its ‘terms of use’ can be pretty annoying; they allow porn groups/profiles but remove breastfeeding photos!).

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But my small win came from creating the page. Shontu became a platform for survivors of cyber bullies, 'Frndseep'-seekers and sleazeballs to come forward with their tales of woe and, sometimes, extreme hilarity. We have dealt with some incredibly bizarre characters, including one ‘Ramu Mahato’ who wanted to be the personal slave to every woman on my friend list to a ‘Raja Dotta’ who was obsessed with hair, and to the on-loop 'frnseep' seeker who’d text “Hi, Hii, Hiii, Hiiii” at a scale that would make your morning riyaz sessions pale in comparison. The diverse age/socio-economic backgrounds of these cyber bullies could leave you shocked and flabbergasted. I wouldn’t name him, but we’ve even had to deal with a professor from one of Kolkata’s most reputed universities. You might be surprised, but anyone could be a stalker hiding behind their filtered profile pictures.

The recent case of Varnika Kundu brings to light the fact that assault occurs on two levels — one, when the person is harassed in real life, and two, when she/he/they choose to fight back or talk about their experiences publicly. Varnika did just that, she spoke out and demanded justice against her stalkers. What did she receive in return? A ‘normalised’ avalanche of comments about how she shouldn’t have been out so late, why she was driving, and why she complained. These comments may seem harmless on the surface, but they constitute what we know to be cyber bullying.

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Imagine a scene in your average Hollywood TV series where a young person is slammed against a locker or surrounded in a football field and humiliated. Online, the locker could be a Facebook group, and the football field, the comments section on a photograph you shared. You get the picture?

You only need to Google names like Amanda Todd and Megan Meier to realise the extent to which cyber bullying often leads to irreversible consequences. Speaking of irreversible, consider the controversial Blue Whale Challenge. My group got hold of the “rules” of this game and realised that it is a masterful process of manipulation and bullying. It is not a game; it is cyber bullying on a truly dangerous level.

Take Sarahah, too, for instance. Yes, Sarahah. What could be so dangerous about something as harmless as Sarahah, right? Wrong. This is an app that encourages users to post ‘anonymous’ feedback to anyone who downloads and shares their personal account link. While I commend organisations, which are using it for good causes, I am left shaken by the vitriol it produces. From abusive comments to threats, more than half of the comments received via this anonymous app are nasty in nature according to stats. My advice would be to download it at your own risk, but to be aware of the fact that you may not like what you receive.

From my own experience with that sort of vitriol, I’ve come upon some basic ways to take stock of cyber bullying:

  • Take screenshots. Screenshots = evidence. And you will have proof of the abuse even if the post is deleted later.

  • Do not engage, as far as possible. This is difficult, and I usually respond with humour to comments on my photos that tend to disarm most of these characters.

  • Contact someone who can help. You could connect with the Shontu page, and we will guide you on what steps can be taken, depending on the nature and level of bullying. 

Sometimes, when it comes to dealing with modern technology, old school advice works the best. Cyber bullying is NOT a solution to any debate, and just as we can all be victimised by it, we can also turn into bullies ourselves, intentionally or otherwise. The most pertinent solution is to be aware of your rights and be equally vigilant regarding your own participation in online conversations. Consent is key, in on- and offline spheres. I decided to speak up because I knew I wasn’t alone in this. And now you know you’re not alone either.

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