When cricketer Younis Khan was building his career for Pakistan, his mother told him about donkey’s love.
“What is the love of a donkey?” Khan recounted his mother as saying in an article in The Cricket Monthly. “When he falls in love, he starts kicking.”
That was a long time ago. Khan’s mother, a simple woman from Mardan, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was using earthy wisdom to prepare her son for the vagaries of public reaction in their country. But she could just as well have been talking about the modern social media. Such has been the reaction on Twitter and Facebook to this writer’s article, “The Joke’s on Dhoni: Why his banter with journo is no laughing matter” . The chaps have showered uninhibited, unfettered love.
The article made a simple point. Asked about his plans to retire after India’s loss to the West Indies in the T20 World Cup, Dhoni insinuated that journalists who ask him that question may have a brother or a son ready to take his place in the team. It was a bad joke at a bad time.
None of the vitriol-filled comments – there were hundreds – refuted the reasoning of the article. Instead, they attacked the writer.
At times, it was funny. Such as one who got so angry he got entangled in double negatives. “With IQ in the low negatives, these idiots can only be employed in the media.” Actually, “low negatives” would be positive, won’t it? As it happens, this writer’s IQ is in healthy three digits, all positive.
Some used Hindi invectives. “Mirchi lagi kya media ke kutton (did it sting you, you media dogs)?” asked one. Others cannot be reproduced in a family newspaper such as this.
Many brought out Gen. V K Singh’s delicious contribution to public discourse. “And who is this joker to judge Captain Cool. Ohh silly of me, he must be champion of presstitutes.” That word does sting. But the common sentiment among the angry tweeters -- “who the hell are you to ask these questions?” -- baffles. Journalists do raise questions and write opinion. It’s part of the job.
Some wanted to know if this writer had ever played cricket or knew how to hold a bat. Actually, he does, isn’t that a wooden frame with catgut in the middle?
Some said this writer had no sense of humour. To them, see above.
It got worse thereafter. “The reporter should be slapped.” “No presstitute will ever retire, they will continue to write against India from their graves.” “Go and hit the wall you greatest shouting frog.”
Frog? Come on! What’s the poor little thing done to you?
The intensity of the personal attack was such that you would think the article had picked on the Prime Minister, or – worse – praised the Congress vice-president. Or, that the writer were a woman.
Do not take that last bit lightly. The Guardian of London is running a series called The Web We Want to highlight online harassment. As part of it, the newspaper researched the 70 million comments left on its site since 2006 and found that of the 10 contributors who receive the most abuse in its comment threads, eight are women. The two men are black. The women in general get more abuse than men, but especially more when they write about rape and feminism. When a man is shamed, it’s usually, “I’m going to get you fired.” When a woman is shamed, it’s, “I’m going to rape you and get you fired.”
The Guardian series interviewed Monica Lewinsky, who was 20 years ago famously denounced by American President Bill Clinton as “that woman”, and defiled by men with relish on the internet and late-night television. That was before the social media, but the internet and email were there, acting as a swift medium to spread idle chatter that branded Lewinsky a slut, while doing pretty much nothing to Clinton. Anyone who laughed at a Lewinsky joke back then should read the Guardian piece.
The rise of the social media has accentuated the abuse. And it’s not just against journalists or White House interns. Hollywood actress Jennifer Aniston says she stays clear of the social media to avoid seeing hurtful comments. Google Ideas, a think tank devoted to fighting online harassment, recently tweeted a photo of a group of women that included activists against online harassment. It soon got swamped with racist and sexist comments asking the women to kill themselves – the exact thing it is trying to curb. Now Google, Facebook, and Twitter are talking to grassroots organisations, NGOs, women’s groups, and communities in several countries to organise a campaign against online abuse and hate speech.
Julieanne Smolinski wrote in an article in the New York magazine: “Twitter is like a beloved public park that used to be nice, but now has a rusty jungle gym, dozens of really persistent masturbators, and a nighttime bat problem.”
Yes, all those. And donkeys.