TODAY -

The Methodical Magpie: Of Accountability and the Internet

Natalidita Ningthoukhongjam *

An Opte Project visualization of routing paths through a portion of the Internet.
An Opte Project visualization of routing paths through a portion of the Internet
Pic Courtesy : wikipedia.org



"The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had."

- Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google

With the advent of the internet, it has become easier to communicate with people, to keep in touch with those whom we want to stay close, to make new friends from around the world, and to access, produce and distribute information using our fingertips. We are at a point in history in which distance has almost lost its meaning. Want to have a face-to-face conversation with somebody living in another country? "Skype" them. Afraid to lose contact with your classmates after graduating from school or college? Add them on Facebook. Interested in getting updates from your favourite celebrity's life in his own words? Follow him on Twitter. Forget about social networking, you don't even have to wait for the next day's newspaper or depend on the TV for breaking news—the internet will keep you posted if you ask it to.

The internet has also become a cost-effective tool for those working at building an audience. Gone are the days when independent and lesser-known artists had to wait for MTV to promote them. Nowadays, they can put their talent on display for the entire planet by simply opening a Youtube account, or by uploading his recordings on his own website. The same holds true for artist, photographers, actors—anyone who wants more people to see, read, and/or listen to what they have to offer. The feedback is instantaneous and can be measured in numerical value. And why wait for a magazine to interview you when you can speak to your own fans at your own sweet time?

The speed and flexibility with which the internet performs is too good to be true, and perhaps, that is why these benefits come at a heavy price. Festering underneath all the usefulness and fun is the stink of rampant abuse that manifests in various forms, and in varying degrees of damage. The internet is not just a ubiquitous portal for accessing information; it is also a cesspit of misinformation.

How? The answer is not very complicated. If you can build for yourself an online presence by registering for emails, social networking, blogs, and other such purposes, everyone else can do the same. It is a free-for-all platform that provides a wide space of participation and limited control. That is how abuse enters the picture, with the creation of accounts that are fake, duplicate, or anonymous, resulting in smear campaigns, identity thefts, and in some very unfortunate cases, the murder of those who trusted the virtual personas they had been interacting with.

In September, 2006, a young man was shot to death by his co-worker in the office parking lot; they had been fighting over a nineteen year old girl, who went by the name of "talhotblond" in the chat-room where both men had met her. The "girl" turned out to be her mother in the end. In July, 2012, a man was caught and imprisoned for impersonating Justin Bieber and One Direction's Niall Horan in order to solicit nude pictures from teenage girls. By August of the same year, Facebook had accumulated over 83 million fake accounts. Even the Taliban has apparently caught on, creating Facebook profiles in which they use pictures of attractive women to befriend Australian soldiers in Afghanistan (and subsequently murder them, using the site's geo-tagging feature).

These are a few examples that made it to the news. Incidents of abuse, especially on Facebook, continue to be reported every day, and our small community is not lagging behind in perpetuating cybercrime. I focus on Facebook because it happens to be the most popular site at the moment for obvious reasons. It can deliver what we need from the internet at the most basic levels: a common area for socialising, self-promotion, news updates, etc. I could mention how it is also used for sharing increasingly asinine jokes, venting one's feelings with the kind of explosiveness only a passive-aggressive person can muster, even nurturing a crippling dependence on statistics for the validation of one's self-esteem, but that is a discussion for another Friday.

No, I look at Facebook because it is also the virtual space where wilful abuse has been occurring quite frequently. One of my friends has suffered a case of identity theft. There are profiles under Meitei female names that upload soft-porn images and post lewd statuses. Two years ago, a sex-clip was released by a man claiming to be a "jilted lover", one who never showed his own face. Recently, a most disturbing smear campaign against Meitei women staying in Bengaluru was reported by several of my friends; it advertised a manipulated picture of a girl sitting between two black men at a club, and exhorted the Meitei community to hate the "sluts".

It doesn't matter if the picture is real or not; it is being appropriated to suggest that a) all women who study outside are sexually promiscuous, b) hanging around with black men automatically turn them into an object worthy of disgust (never mind the fact that such a conclusion is per se disgustingly racist), c) any woman who goes to a club should be humiliated. The jilted lover's goal was to achieve the same result: humiliation. The fake pornographic accounts are misogynistic at an even deeper level, whether they are being run by a guy or a girl.

How does one prevent such crimes? Well, prevention seems impossible. However, one can be vigilant and discrete to avoid falling a victim; one can also do what my friends did—start a counter-campaign and report such pages and accounts to the site. The best method of answering back is to give the offending parties a quick death. It's comfortable to step back and watch the drama unfold, but that's the reason crime persists. Therefore, know who your friends are, think before you hit enter, and fight the hatred. Don't feed it.


* Natalidita Ningthoukhongjam wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao English Edition
This article was posted on June 07, 2013.



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