Hate speech

Will women continue to be on social media or will they give up?

Gowry Maha

It is commonplace on social media today to use abusive or derogatory language against women, who oppose the family, husband or father. Sexual harassment of women in public is considered a weapon against such women. Not only that but they are used as a weapon against the whole family and sometimes as a weapon against the particular race and community, as well as being a trigger for direct violence. This has a psychological impact.

Here are two recent incidents in Sri Lanka:

A person has posted a comment on a public site insulting a woman who is a social activist.

One person posted on Twitter that he would ‘rape the daughter” to threaten the father.

The first issue is related to Sri Lanka. The second was related to India. In both the cases disgusting derogatory terms were used against women by people from Sri Lanka.

The first incident – involving a leftist oriented woman who is also the secretary of the Women’s Liberation Organization who works to raise the voice for the oppressed people. She has commented on a post about E.V.Ramasamy (Periyar – a South Indian Rational thinker).  In reply to that, a Grama Sevaka in the Vavuniya area commented to the female narrators with the most disgusting words, saying, ‘If Periyar is alive, she will ‘keep’ Periyar too.’ And he also scolds the feminists with the most disgusting words. When such comments are criticized he puts more and more derogatory words against all women who speak feminism in public. According to his words, all women are sex slaves to men. The person in question does not hide his identity. In his Facebook profile, he clearly states everything about himself such as hometown, work etc. with his own picture. When this conversation of him was brought to the public, he started creating fake accounts and started slandering the female activist. It is also believed that the fake account created with a ‘derogatory term’ which refers to women.

The female activist then sends a letter to the relevant office for disciplinary action against him. “No matter what you do, you can do nothing to me” the person publicly retorts. The social activist uploads his post screenshots on her wall for other members of the public to question such behaviour. Due to this, the person complains to Facebook and blocks get the account of the female activist blocked for many days. Many women continued to post conversations about it on their homepages. Conducted discussions. And they made the topic ‘Violence against women’ the talk of the town on social media.

The person involved continues his posts as humorous with derogatory terms against women. Gradually other men also join him in posting vilifying posts about that particular female activist. In it, he shows the arrogance of being male claiming the power is in his hands. It has been two months since this happened. No one took any action in this regard. It is learnt that the female activist is currently making arrangements for legal action.

Thus public slander or defamation against a woman is not related to these two persons. We have to look at this issue through various other angles such as social, cultural, legal, political, gender, religion, technology etc. Only when you look at it like that, various other things come to light:

  • Male-female inequality in society.
  • Position against women’s freedom of expression which is a basic human right
  • Action to marginalize women from social media use.
  • Legal and social insecurity for women in Sri Lanka.
  • The religious-cultural attitude that the identity of a man is enough to degrade women.
  • The social structure that degrading a woman in public is not a big deal.
  • Patriarchal thinking that views of any woman – even if she is on the scholarly platform – can be brought down to 0 level by criticizing her morals.
  • Marginalizes women from democratic practice.
  • Marginalizes women from modern forms of communication.
  • Criticizing women based on sex is said to be entertaining.

Thus this incident tells us many things. How to prevent these?

Incidents like these that are published on social media are the worst forms of violence against women. These are the violence against women who seek to speak in public.

The next incident was the preparations for the casting of an Indian actor in a film about a Sri Lankan cricketer. In this case, to prevent the actor from casting in the film; someone posted on Twitter that he would sexually abuse his daughter (child). This post was followed by news in the media. The Indian ‘Cyber Crime Unit’ went down to find out who the registered person of that account was. They find out that the person is in Sri Lanka. Then there are reports that Interpol has been asked to help find out who that person is in Sri Lanka. The news is followed by a video in the media.

Following this development, the person who posted on Twitter says through a video says that he did it in frustration because he had lost his job during the Covid-19 that had mentally affected him. He also begs to be forgiven. The person’s mother also tells the story. He cries that he has done so in a state of mental distress and will never do so again. This person’s identities were withheld in the news.

These are not isolated incidents and show

  1. Expression of male-female inequality in society.
  2. A woman becomes a weapon to avenge a man
  3. The heroism in the act of sexual violence.
  4. Rape is not a crime.
  5. Even a child can be sexually abused.
  6. Sexual criticism of a woman can intimidate her family.

Thus social media posts are becoming more and more frightening for children to grown-up women. How can these be stopped or blocked?

The person involved in the first of these two incidents continues to post records from his own name without any sense of guilt. He posts very clearly that nothing can be done to him even through legal actions. In the second incident, the person immediately came to the media and tendered his apology as soon as becoming aware that the law was approaching him.

Since social media is a public platform the public too must have their responsibility in using it but I doubt very much whether they have understood it. Those who post in this manner somehow let the community know who they are and what their character is. But the community does not see it. Instead, the community seeks out the woman who is being slandered and victimized reprimands her. The community says her to quit this, or stay away from it. This is a paradox. So there is nothing we can do about it. Many women have already shunned social media due to that. If gender equality and democracy are to be enjoyed by all, it is better such contents are restricted by law than to be censored. So the idea remains that these can only be controlled by laws.

‘Arrangements are there to bring in laws for social media crimes in Sri Lanka but have not been completed. Preventive measures are currently being taken under the cybercrime Laws. Yet their only responsibility is to identify the perpetrator of some of these slanders.

‘Such defamation’ can be sued under the Defamation Act. Says lawyer Swastika Arullingam. ‘It is a crime to present false information in public in a way that affects one’s dignity and one’s social status. That is, it is a crime to harm or damage one’s reputation. ‘ That’s what the law says, she says. It is also commonly referred to as a defamation suit.

One of these is Libel and the other is Slander. The stigma attached to the openness (Libel) is visible to the naked eye. Be it in writing or image form. But slanderous insults are words that are spoken.

Attorney-at-Law Mangala Shankar, while referring to this, explained that the essential requirements for proving defamation are as follows.

‘It should be about undermining a person’s goodwill.

  1. A) It should be such as to directly or indirectly demean one’s reputation in the evaluation of others.
  2. B) Talking about a person’s morals and knowledge that should reduce one’s goodwill.
  3. E) should be derogatory of one’s caste.
  4. D) should be detrimental to a woman’s chastity.
  5. E) Must be detrimental to a person’s reputation.

Should be slanderous to one’s value as a whole.

The following cases are more common in Sri Lanka. Some people lie without realizing it, in order to diminish the respect of another. Then there is the apology in court. Sometimes there is a large amount of money to be lost. ‘ Says lawyer Mangala Shankar.

Next is the realization that FaceBook management does not have the correct attitude towards women. In India, when a female journalist was insulted and reported about it to the FaceBook, the reply she got was that the post in question is not wrong according to their social acceptance or community standard. Subsequently, the matter was reported to the police. There was also public outcry. Only then the FaceBook took action to remove the post. The female journalist also said that there were lots of political pressure against her.

Defamation against women on social media is a form of female oppression. It is also a mechanism to remove a section of society from the public sphere and from democratic systems. It is imperative today that people must come out strongly about this unacceptable social behaviour and the authorities must establish law and order

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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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