Social media has allowed us to share thoughts, feelings, and experiences with people worldwide using just a few taps or clicks. But as it has grown in popularity, a toxic culture of online harassment and trolling has also developed, especially for celebrities and public figures.
Actors, actresses, singers, and athletes are constantly in the public eye and receive a lot of attention from fans and critics online. Even before social media, their every move was scrutinised, and they were expected to maintain a specific image and persona. We've seen several notable cases where celebrities have stepped back from public life due to harassment. A constant stream of abuse and criticism can take a toll on anybody.
In Bangladesh, this harassment can result from even the most harmless interactions. Recently, Shakib Al Hasan's donation of Tk 20,000 to the victims of the Bangabazar fire tragedy via The Mastul Foundation, with a nomination of Taskin Ahmed to continue the cycle, received backlash and sarcastic comments on social media.
Similarly, actress Rafiath Rashid Mithila has faced constant negative comments since her divorce in 2017. Anything that Mithila posts on her personal or professional social platforms, be it spending quality time with her family, attending social events, signing up for films, teasers of her new movies, or receiving prizes for her work, some people never give up a chance to be disrespectful. Mithila is a mother, actor, development worker, and writer pursuing a PhD degree as well. Despite her work, achievements, and status as a human being, she is harangued without interruption.
Singer Xefer and YouTuber Salman Muqtadir have faced online harassment and trolling too. Xefer's latest song was a commercial success, but social media hounded her on her appearance. Salman Muqtadir has faced criticism and abuse for his content and opinions, particularly on sensitive social and political issues. Recently, he has been subjected to online trolling for his marriage.
Jaya Ahsan is a beloved actress and model. However, her recent photoshoot with Swastika Mukherjee has drawn abusive comments on their looks and dressing choices rather than constructive feedback on their work. The mean-spirited anger in these comments is apparent.
Even national award-winning actress Azmeri Haque Badhon was not spared by the online trolling culture. She was subjected to personal attacks and victim-blaming comments when she shared her views on women's safety in Bangladesh. This kind of harassment affects the mental health and well-being of those attacked and also sends a negative message to society, perpetuating the idea that it is acceptable to attack and belittle others online.
In Bangladesh, social media use is on the rise, with around 39 million active social media users in January 2021, according to a report by We Are Social and Hootsuite. The most popular platform in the country is Facebook, with 37 million active users. This rise has been accompanied by a spike in online harassment. A 2018 survey by the National Youth Taskforce Against Cyberbullying and Sexual Harassment found that 65 per cent of young people in Bangladesh have experienced online harassment, with women being the primary targets. The survey also noted that social media platforms were the most common location for such harassment.
This behaviour is not limited to celebrities in the entertainment industry but also extends to politicians, activists, and journalists. In fact, a survey conducted by the International Center for Journalists in 2018 found that more than one-third of female journalists have experienced online harassment, with social media being the most common platform for such abuse.
The impact of online harassment can be severe, with consequences such as mental health problems, damage to personal and professional lives, and safety and security concerns. The World Health Organization has recognised online harassment as a form of violence against women that can perpetuate gender inequality and discrimination. Therefore, it is crucial to create awareness about the impact of online harassment and to take action to prevent and mitigate it.
As social media users, we must be more mindful of our words and actions and strive to create a positive and respectful online environment. At the same time, social media companies must take a more proactive approach to combat online harassment and ensure that their platforms are safe and inclusive for all users.
People deserve admiration and constructive criticism based on their work. Still, it is also essential to respect the personal lives of those we interact with, even when it is through a screen. The social media users of Bangladesh must ask themselves – is it reasonable to judge others' personal lives through the lens of the tiny slivers we see in public? And would we want to withstand the same scrutiny ourselves?
This article is part of Stripe, bdnews24.com's special publication focusing on culture and society from a youth perspective.