We live in a world that would have seemed like a page from a magical fairy tale just a few decades ago. People can travel from one end of the world to the other in hours. We have electricity-powered weather bubble systems at home like ACs and heaters and lights to turn, night to day. We have smart gadgets that pull entertainment out of thin air. We have telecommunication and live news. And most relevantly, for the purpose of this article, we have the internet. And thus, we have to ask – Should you be morally responsible to have online accountability?
The internet, as we all know, is a huge place where we can get lost easily. It is a gold mine of information, authentic and otherwise, and at least to some of our parents, it is the source of everything wrong with our lifestyle. Now, there is a long list of reasons why that particular notion is wrong, but they might be right in pointing out that the Internet does spoil certain aspects of our moral lifestyle, such as accountability.
What is online accountability?
Accountability can be explained as the feeling that one is susceptible to the consequences of one’s actions. Being accountable online refers to the responsibility that we have over our actions on the internet.
The internet has undoubtedly revolutionised the way we perceive entertainment. It has also changed the way we react to what entertains or informs us. Platforms on the internet offer us a certain level of anonymity. Thus, we are easily able to shed any accountability we bear online due to our name. Of course, this anonymity has become a necessity due to the increasing dangers in the virtual world, but it is itself a source of danger.
When we don’t have to reveal our names, we are emboldened to say whatever comes to our minds. This is perhaps the reason why the internet is the loose place it is, where anything sensational thrives without the curbs imposed on natural interpersonal communication. Even when a person chooses not to be anonymous, names often get lost in the busy place the internet is. Even when it doesn’t, the internet offers a person the security of being behind a screen. This lack of risk diminishes the moral inhibition one may have in an actual interaction and thus, paves the way for cyberbullying.
Lack of accountability leads to cyberbullying
Several studies refer to cyberbullying as an intense form of psychological torture that drives victims to even the point of killing themselves. In less extreme cases, it causes depression, anxiety and insecurity.
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Malayalis are not new to the world of cyberbullying. A lot of Kerala’s netizens are trigger fingered people ready to spew insults if they see something they don’t like. Our society makes fun of women for being gossip mongers. Yet an uncountable number of people online – both men and women – escape being the butt of such sexist jokes despite doing the exact same thing. From the college-going fisherwoman Hanan to the couple who made waves with their progressive wedding photoshoot, many Malayalis have become victims of such bullying, all the more vicious because it is in a risk-free virtual platform.
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This sort of abusive privilege that some people think they have over the content others put out is truly shameful, not to mention dangerous. Even though a wayward word is all it takes at times to destroy a person completely, online abusers rarely stop at that. Social media users can testify to this. There are so many types of online abuse such bullies resort to such as frapping, trolling, phishing, dissing, blackmail, and so on. Moreover, online attacks are persistent, made bold due to the fact that online platforms rarely demand any accountability.
In an incident a few years back, Ooshmal Ullas, an MBBS student who committed suicide was suspected to have done so due to cyberbullying.
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Audience accountability is the responsibility the audience has over their reaction to what they watch or read. A few decades ago, when audience interaction used to be minimal in the creation of entertainment or news, the issue of audience accountability rarely ever came up. Today, on a dynamic platform such as the internet, the audience is able to actively engage with the creator. It is not so hard to spot at least one person in every comment section who takes offence at everything. They forget that it is impossible to make something that makes everyone happy and resort to trolling and insulting the content creator.
The most recent case of such bullying was that of the dance video made by medical students Janaki Omkumar and Naveen Razak, where their dance video became a rallying point for fanatics who refused to see the simple beauty of friendship. It takes a great deal of confidence for any creative artist to perform, be it a single poem or a complex dance compilation, irrespective of whether the channel is offline or online. While a negative comment may be a do-it-forget-about-it experience for the commenter, it may not be so for the creator of the content. Such comments cause severe insecurity, especially for first-time content creators, and always pull creativity down.
Petty hate is not criticism
Criticising content shouldn’t be taken as lightly as it is done now. Take this statement: “This is a bad post”. This could easily be a comment anywhere. The commenter is surely entitled to this opinion but there are several reasons why it is unacceptable.
- It is an incomplete statement that does not say why the post is bad. Clearly, it is not an attempt at constructive criticism, rather it aims only to discredit hastily.
- We often point fingers at our immediate society for judging us, yet when we are online we forget the pain of being judged ignorantly.
- Putting out content is a difficult process that involves hours of work. It is easy for a content maker to lose heart if bad comments are all they get. It has become very easy now to bully a person into artistic silence. This is because most of us don’t realise that what appears to be a witty offhand comment to us could be a hard one for a content maker who expects actual criticism.
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It is especially true for women who create content online – the amount of people who insult and slut-shame them is staggering. If you don’t have any constructive criticism to offer, don’t say anything at all – it is as simple as that. That’s called having online accountability. Of course, content creators must be responsible for the content they produce. The audience has the right to protest at unacceptable content but that should be done civilly. However, a lot of today’s audience runs to type asterisked words in the comments that attack the content maker personally instead of criticizing the content.
Not all people stop at a single insulting comment or a dislike. There are so many instances of online stalking and threats. Often, people who are triggered make multiple accounts on online platforms to threaten the person who displeased them. Or they rope their friends in to continue the trend of bullying. Either way, the ordeal is extremely disturbing to the person on the receiving end. Some even end up vanishing from the platform, refusing to produce any more content. Nobody is entitled to that sort of power over anyone else. This is precisely why our educational institutions need to immediately start teaching students the responsibilities of being online.
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Teach online accountability
While there are laws against cyberbullying, there is no lawful restriction to saying mean things online. The only person you are accountable to is yourself, and perhaps God (to those who believe in a higher power). The only way to reduce such irresponsible comments is to teach children online etiquette. This is a difficult thing to teach here because our society is still stuck with the notion that smart technology is corruptive and hence must be shut away from kids, especially girls. However, they have to realise that unless there is a sudden global cataclysm that derails civilization, technology like smartphones and the internet are here to stay. Hence, we must immediately move to start educating children about online accountability and responsibility.
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The internet is a world full of potential. Just like everything else in life, it yields great fruits when treated with proper discipline. Online content is not anybody’s hate-punchbag. It is rather an act of sharing an artist does to entertain their fellows. It is the carefully put-together news that reporters bring from across the world. It is often the voice of a single person bringing together people from different walks of life for a common cause. It is not the place for ignorant people to unload their hate. If you don’t like it, just move on. Don’t hate on it like petty children. As the audience, our responsibility is to encourage the new generation of entertainers and newsmakers. Offer them criticism that aims to genuinely make them better not to pull them down.