Social media platforms across the country have become a central hotspot for people that want to share their opinions and thoughts from behind virtual veils. With 61.288 million active Internet subscribers (as of March 2016, BRTC reports), an overwhelming percentage of the population has successfully embraced the digital age. However, despite our quick welcome, it seems the Internet has also brought with it its fair share of negativity and hate.
According to Bangladesh page statistics report posted on Socialbakers.com, two of the top three Bangladeshi Facebook pages with the largest audience is “Bangladesh Cricket: The Tigers” and Shakib Al Hasan’s fanpage. Clearly, despite the passionate fan following the cricket team has, there is also a fair share of haters and Internet trolls that come with it. Ace Bangladeshi all-rounder Nasir Hossain took the media by storm after posting an innocent photo of himself and his sister soon after the Tigers’ historic series win against India. Within a few hours, the photo was flooded with comments - some nice, others, not too nice. Many derogatory comments were aimed at Nasir’s sister. Irked by the abusive comments, Hossain took down the photo, while his teammate Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza shut down his own Facebook fan page in protest.
This is only the tip of the iceberg; many other users of social media platforms have been victim to everything from abusive comments to online trolls. Around 80 percent of internet users in Bangladesh are Facebook users and Facebook has turned into the breeding ground for haters who never miss an opportunity to leave derogatory remarks.
Celebrities are as vulnerable, if not more, to hate comments. “Two to three months ago I turned off the option where my Facebook profile would be open to comments from followers,” says actor Iresh Zaker. With 153,539 followers on Facebook, Zaker shared that for every 10 comments, he would receive one negative comment that would say something “mean, nasty and personal.”
“I couldn’t come to terms with how someone I don’t have absolutely any connection with can have so much hate and anger towards me. I really felt like I was being violated and it affected me on a personal level. It doesn’t affect a lot of people, and they can move on, but I couldn’t. It was causing me too much mental grief to expose myself to it.” Currently, Zaker has a straightforward strategy - he deletes them and blocks the person from his profile.
Asif B Azad, YouTube sensation behind Bhai Brothers Ltd, has a completely different approach. “I treat negative comments as promotion for our videos. Negativity attracts negativity and while it can be upsetting when looked at from a personal perspective, from a business perspective I think it works for us,” he shared. With 100,000 subscribers and 10 million YouTube channel views for Bhai Brothers, Asif looks at the negative comments from a broader, positive perspective. For every negative comment or shares on Facebook, more people view his videos, and more views equate to more profitability.
“You can’t really measure the amount of negativity or hate, but when it comes to the like to dislike ratio, likes always win. We’ve never seen a video that has been dissed more than appreciated.”
Nazia Tariq, admin of Facebook group Desperately Seeking Dhaka, too, has had her fair share of negativity both on her group and on her personal profile. With 58,789 members in her group, the numbers are overwhelming. “ I used to get a lot of hateful comments before, but I don’t get them as much now,” she shares. However, when she does receive a comment that she finds hurtful, she always responds. “I love giving people a good fight,” she adds.
While Nazia enjoys a good rebuttal, others try to see if a polite approach would work in silencing haters. Esha Rushdi, admin of Facebook group “All about make up, skin and hair!!,” says she tries to “shame the person by responding with extreme politeness.” If a kind approach doesn’t work, she believes rules for being members of the group certainly helps in weeding out those who post vile speech.
Tinker Jannat Meem, founder and admin of Pop of Color, one of the largest female lifestyle groups with 15,635 members, has taken a strong stance against trolls, making sure she makes the rules of the group crystal clear.
“Do not post, share or comment about any YTbers, bloggers, artists, models, actresses in the group, especially the female ones! You might have whatever opinion about them but keep it to yourself! Said it before, saying it again: Don’t comment anything if you don’t have anything NICE to say!” a pinned post on the group reads.
N R Vicky, proprietor of restaurants Tokyo Express, Melange, Mirage, Sudder Street and Wow Burger too, has come across several comments that are detrimental to the success of his business. However, when it comes to any user reviews or comments on any of his restaurants’ Facebook pages, he always believes in responding with an open mind and a polite approach.
“Some people write for the sake of writing, some write just to harm your business and some comment because perhaps they are genuinely disappointed. Whatever the case is, no matter how we feel, I always appreciate the feedback and try to inquire what’s the reason behind the comment,” Vicky shares. He personally replies to each of them, never replying negatively.
FoodBank, the largest portal of food lovers with an astounding 189,364 members, gets a steady stream of food-related posts on a daily basis. However, despite the apparently innocent nature of the group, even these posts can lead to comment wars, some leading to fights that go beyond the group’s page.
Mohammad Sabit Hossain, admin of FoodBank says: “When I first joined FoodBank as an admin last year, I was stunned by how much hate we get. Sometimes we’d delete posts that are irrelevant to the group or ban members that create chaos, but a lot of them wouldn’t take it well. Users would resort to using derogatory comments, slang and even send us private messages.” Although it bothered him at first, Sabit takes these comments in his stride now, believing its part of the job.
“Every week we’ll get at least two to three people who indulge in hate speech. It used to bother us before, but now we focus on the appreciation and love for the group and the events we’ve worked so hard for. When I compare it to the hate comments, it feels irrelevant,” he adds.