The internet is a powerful tool for good, but it can also amplify hateful attitudes
The government’s Digital Bangladesh vision seeks to integrate internet access with development efforts in national priority areas, such as education, health care, and agriculture. It is true that technology promises us a prosperous future for our nation, but are we ready to meet its complicated demands?
We are living in a cultural moment where the internet has become easier to access in our homes compared to other basic human necessities. It has worked as an ally that has provided us the capacity to rise against injustices. Online media has become an effortless tool to educate others. Nevertheless, our nation is still not equipped with enough resources to counter the curse that comes with it.
The internet has become an outlet for rapists to share or upload videos of rape or revenge porn without facing any consequences. The infamous rape case of Noakhali’s Begumganj is just one of many recurring incidents that makes us question the use of online media in our country. In the physical realm, we are already fighting a misogynistic society where female liberation is feared.
In 2015, The Alliance for Affordable Internet reported that 80% of the population in Bangladesh afforded a 500MB mobile broadband plan based on local income levels. The World Economic Forum 2016 Global IT report ranked Bangladesh 112 out of 139 countries worldwide in its Networked Readiness Index. The country scored poorly on infrastructure and regulatory environment.
Cheap internet has not only aggravated the existing forms of misogyny, but also created new ones. In this day and age, we are still carrying the burden of our draconian laws that perpetuate a victim-blaming culture and lack of judicial governance for gender-based violence. Our society’s misogynistic attitude is now extending over social media.
A Bangladeshi activist and influencer shared a screenshot of hate comments posted on one of her videos addressing the ongoing epidemic of rape in Bangladesh. In response, there were many hateful comments. One of them said: “Why didn’t anyone rape her?”
This is not new in our culture -- and it continues online.
With the easy accessibility of the internet, hatred and misogyny towards female autonomy is expressed more so than before. The 2017 Amnesty International poll cited earlier found that 41% of women who had experienced online abuse or harassment said that, on at least one occasion, these online experiences made them feel that their physical safety was threatened.
What can we do?
In conversation with Nuzhat Minhaz, founder of PrivaC -- an organization that provides verified legal services and professional psychological counseling to the victims of cybercrimes -- we unravel the breadth of the problem.
Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube are coded to lay out what you want to see in your newsfeed. It is detected by what you click, watch, share, or comment. We have arrived at a moment where how you choose to be on social media feeds into what you see online.
Celebrity Ananta Jalil, not too long ago, posted a video that quickly descended into victim-blaming. Instead of reporting the misguided information immediately, thousands of users shared it. In this way, harmful information can spread with no way to predict how one will consume or communicate.
As the number of internet users in Bangladesh is steadily on the rise, we are now on the brink of a crisis of hate and misogyny we do not know how to deal with.
It is hard to remain hopeful in a country with a wounded civilization. It’s harder when so much of your energy is wasted looking out for predators lurking in the streets.
Now the dilemma has extended over social media. In the middle of all the chaos, the hope remains in building a stronger education system and reforming stronger laws.
For now, please immediately report any online misogyny or hate crimes instead of just sharing it on your socials. l
Afra Nuarey is a freelance journalist.