Tackling hate speech and fake news

Is it wrong to post photographs revealing one’s face on Facebook?

Ashan Afthar

Fatima Hapsa (name changed) never dreamt that a photo on the Facebook will affect her education. Fatima who gained admission to follow Social Studies in the University of Colombo, now awaits permission to continue her studies because of the nasty criticisms she faced after publishing her identity on the Facebook.

‘I opened the Facebook account for a university programme.  As I had to exhibit my identity I joined with my own name.  But I posted a photo where my face was not clear. I did not think it would create such a big issue’ says Hapsa.

Since I posted my photo some males started posting very bad comments from their accounts.  Beginning with criticism that I had posted my face while being a Muslim girl, it continued with obscene words like inviting me for sex and wanting to give me their phone numbers.  Due to this instead of deactivating my Facebook account, I withdrew from it’.  Hapsa was not fully proficient in the technicalities of Facebook.  She did not know how to control or block these accounts. When Hapsa’s parents who came to know about this they felt that they had lost their family’s respect.  Many including neighbours, Hapsa’s friends and relatives thought that Hapsa had lost her moral qualities.  The result of this was that Hapsa’s education was forbidden by her parents.

Many women like Hapsa have lost their right to show or post their identity or views in public. Their tale does not end with the refusal of their rights. This list lengthens with education, self-respect, mental depression and so on.  Those who are affected say that the basic reasons for this is meaningless cultural and traditional beliefs, deeply rooted in the society for a long time.

Women from the Tamil speaking community living in villages have been refused their rights and are unable to appear on Facebook. Because of foolish ideas under the guise of culture, male dominance and women’s servitude have easily set their roots on the Facebook pages of many women who use them.

In a data published in January 2020, out of 6.4 million social media users in Sri Lanka 5.9 million people are Facebook users. Further, 67.2% of those who use Facebook are males and 32.8 % are females in Sri Lanka.

Though Facebook is easy to handle and is accessible for various information while at the same time being used as a pastime, only 32.8% of the women are able to use it.  Because of this, the views of women who make up more than half of the population cannot be shared in the public domain.  In Sri Lankan Universities too, there are more females than males.  Here too these technological facilities are beyond their reach.

Nayanatha Jayatilalke, a student from the Colombo University said ‘Some of our friends pose for selfies with us.  When they post these photos on WhatsApp they paste a sticker over their face to cover it.  But our faces will be visible. The reason for this is confusing. The reason they give sounds childish.’

As per a report from the National Centre for Cyber Security, more women than men are subject to violence on Facebook.  Fake accounts on Facebook, requesting sexual bribes, vulgar talks, creating issues with photographs, improper memes are some various types of complaints recorded, the report stated.

“Muslim women can avoid these unnecessary criticisms by using Facebook is a safer way.  Uploading their photographs can be specified as the right of an individual.  Nobody has the right to object it” said Social Activist Shamila Sherif.

In this connection, she further said  “As good conduct is always expected to be from women,  usage of the social media by them is criticised by many.  Some of the respected leaders say that Muslim sisters are spoilt by social media. This in a way is fundamentalism used against women.”

There is not going to be any problem when women engage in using social media after duly attending to their duties.  I am also using the Facebook after attending to my duties as a mother as well as a wife.  Once someone used my photo and opened a fake account. Other than that, I have not had any other hindrances.  For a woman to use social media, her family environment and personal interest should be favourable.  In addition, women should make sure that they possess the necessary skill to use it.

Those who may view the entries and photos posted, and send shot messages and those who could view them may be limited. In spite of this, if somebody encourages violence, complaints could be made against them.  The are facilities- to make complaints at the National Centre for Cyber Security which deals with cyber-crimes, Child Protection Authority, Web Crime Investigating Department and Facebook Police Headquarters, Colombo.

Psychological Counsellor Thair Noorul Istra advises “If women, instead of using Facebook as a pastime, make use of this resource for necessities, they can enhance their personalities, face the Facebook violence, and prevent family disputes arising out of it.”

He further said in this regard “After the Corona many people without proper knowledge in using Facebook, have started using it just to while away their time.  Because of the fact that Facebook is a useful one, it is able to prolong steadily until now.  As a Psychological Counsellor, my advice is to limit its usage just within the necessities”.

Everyone does not shun Facebook because of the violence created.  Many people neither aware of how to fight against nor to handle it.  All others in society should avoid thinking that problems arise only when women access it.  In the democratic space, women’s voices should also be listened.  Whenever Facebook violence is created against women, apart from male or female bias, everyone should jointly fight against it.  Reactions against discussions should not be about the physical side or sexual side of the women.  Those who engage in violence in this manner should be opposed by all.

“Women should always be clear is using Facebook.  Facebook is a good resource for those in search of educational information and inventors.  Here women should be clear about their own conduct at times of violence.  In my opinion, in this way, we can create a society that would repel violence with confidence” said Psychological Counsellor Istra.

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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