It’s not all fair on the blogosphere, with an increasing number of women bloggers being harassed with hate mails and nasty, anonymous comments, often with sexual undertones and even stalkers.
Popular mommy blogger The Mad Momma who writes The Brat The Bean and Bedlam calls trolls (people who post nasty comments on blogs) “pestilence”. “They can’t accept the fact that somebody who they think is typically bovine and child-centric could have an opinion, on say, Tibet. These people find it annoying and mystifying that I am just a mommy and my blog is popular.”
The Mad Momma gets nasty feedback not only on her blog but also on other blogs. “My six-month old daughter has been called snot-eating and shit-sniffing. There was a post that said that my husband earns Rs 40 lakh a month and that I pretend to be poor when I write about recycling things,” she says.
Earlier, The Mad Momma would publish the trolls’s comments on her blog and rip them apart, believing they should have their free say. “Now, I don’t bother. Why should they get cheap publicity on my blog?”
What makes matters worse is that nasty comments and personal attacks may be taken to be statements of facts by many readers. According to Blogging India: A Windows Live Report, 2006, nearly 45 per cent netizens believe that blogging content is as trustworthy as the traditional media.
With men constituting 76 per cent of all bloggers in India, the common perception is that “chic-bloggers” get more hits simply because they are women. “I resent this. I use a unisex pseudonym, write about things of general interest like cityscapes, humour and relationships. I find it painful that my identity has to be defined by my gender and not the quality or content of my writing,” says Ramya, who writes as IdeaSmith.
Says Annie Zadie, “Women bloggers get a lot of nonsense — a lot of it is gendered nonsense. Some is vaguely flirty and sometimes it begins to seem threatening.” She adds, “I don’t think I would have got certain comments if I were a man. There are those who try to make your writing sound like that of a juvenile, dumb blonde.”
The Mad Momma attributes trolls to the anonymity of the net. “You get to drop the veneer of being civilised. It’s so easy to call a woman a slut.” Agrees Ajay Jain, president of the Indian Blog and New Media Society. “Going by mentality of some of the men in the country, women bloggers are easy targets.”
There seems to be a direct correlation between a woman blogger defying social norms and being a target of vicious attacks. Marketing professional Saakshi O Juneja gets a lot of abusive comments for her posts on domestic violence, homosexuality, single women and arranged marriages. “Since a big part of your life is up on your blog — from your dog to your pictures and your vacation, people get more fodder to get back at you.” Trolls bare their fangs with comments like, “You are not getting married because you are a faggot.” Says Saakshi, “They don’t leave any aspect of your life when they start attacking you — not even your mother, father or dog. There are threats like — ‘watch out, you are going against society.’”
For Ramya, the threat of such attacks means she has to curtail her freedom to choose subjects to write about, and how strongly she expresses her views. “If political riots break out, I would hesitate to blog on them — not because I don’t have an opinion, but because I would worry about being stalked as a single woman who travels alone,” she says.
What’s the way to deal with trolls? “If you are willing to demolish them intellectually and not personally, they will leave you alone,” says Annie. Says Saakshi, “If you are really serious about blog, you have got to be hard skinned. These things don’t bother me.” She often puts up abusive posts — as long as they make a valid point.
The real-life example of a virtual stalker, say women bloggers, are road-side Romeos. Saakshi had a run-in with one Mr Datla Chiranjeevi Raju on her blog. “He sent me his photographs and mobile number. In spite of my warning him, he continued to barge my blog with his lewd love confessions.” Next, he started posting comments on his own blog using her name, also using her photo. She finally got him off her back by ripping his posts apart on her blog, and getting the blogging platform to shut down his blog. “But he still mails off and on.”
One of the earliest woman bloggers in the country, Melody routinely gets love-sick, sexually explicit mails and comments from her readers. “I blog with my name and photos. When you start a blog, you start with the premise that it will be open to all, and you will be exposed to psychos.” It’s this reason, she says, that many women bloggers choose to blog anonymously.
Says another woman blogger who has been stalked and considered going to cops, “The trouble is that you may make it worse by lodging a complaint. With cyber cells, there is more protection than earlier, but controls are still not adequately in place. The stalker won’t be put behind bars for life and may get back to you.”
What makes it easier for trolls and stalkers is that it is hard to pinpoint them. “It can be difficult to pinpoint the individual from the IP address. The person may be writing from a cyber café,” says cyber security analyst Subimal Bhattacharjee.
Cyber law expert Pavan Duggal is seeing an increase in the number of bloggers seeking his advice on such cases, but most choose not to take legal action because it is a long process. “Identification is the most tedious. Increasingly, we are seeing that network service providers are willing to disclose the identity of persons who own blogs attacking others only on court orders.”
Till better controls are in place, it’s ladies first when it comes to being slammed on the blogosphere.