Foreword: I know my last blog was about bullies on social networking sites and I have written once before also about the hatred online, although the content has been handled pretty differently. So today when you see “online platforms” in the first sentence of the next paragraph, you might wonder if I am obsessed with the theme and if I have nothing else to write about. But trust me, this is really something I’m furious about and I badly need to write it out.

Seeing a number of posts on online platforms these days makes me wonder if there is no rule or law against people clicking pictures or recording videos of others without their knowledge and even posting them online. More often than not these pictures or videos are used to ridicule them or spread rumours which can have disastrous consequences. And people online are so happy to share anything they come across, be it free ‘medical advice’ that could kill people if followed, fake notices that are supposed to create ‘social awareness’ or funny posts that are supposed to make people laugh, even at the expense of someone else at some other corner of the world. Let me cite a few recent examples below, most of which you are aware of I’m sure.

1) The whole Delhi fiasco, where a girl posted a picture of a guy online saying he had abused her in public. People across the country and media alike jumped at this piece and abused the guy in every way possible. The Delhi CM even gave her a cash award for her bravery, without even investigating the issue or trying to understand what exactly happened. The girl basked in the newfound glory for a couple of days until an eye witness came forward seeing the news and said how it was she who abused him and how he didn’t say anything wrong. The whole story was soon found out to be a pack of fabricated lies and media was even asked to apologize to the guy for the mental harassment he was put through. This even led to those girls opening up about genuine issues being distrusted and branded as “another attention seeker and liar”.

2) A story published in The Logical Indian about a policeman from Delhi who was supposedly drunk and behaving weird in the Delhi Metro. Months later it was found out that the poor man had suffered a stroke which left a part of his body paralyzed. Unlike many media houses, the Logical Indian at least had the courtesy to post a retraction and apologize to him. But in the months before the retraction, there was so much of public shaming that took place for no fault of his.

3) After the rough sketch of the murderer was released in a brutal murder case of a Kerala girl, someone started circulating the picture of a young man from Kerala with explicit messages saying, “This is the man who murdered our sister. Please help nab him.” The poor guy had nothing to do with the case and later an immigrant worker was caught as the culprit. However, by then his pictures had become so viral for a very wrong reason, and he went into deep depression for a while.

4) Today I was reading posts about a video with the title “Fastest cashier in the world” that has gone viral, showing a Pune bank cashier counting notes very slowly. Days after the video reached almost a million hits and people all over India had a good laugh over it, her colleague came to know of this and posted a message for everyone who was laughing at her. It said how she was a lady who had survived two heart attacks and had just come back from a paralysis. He went on to say how she wished to come to office until February 2017 when she is due to retire, even though she has enough paid leaves in her account and how the people in the branch respected her wish and arranged for a separate counter where she could continue her duties for the few months she would be there and opened another counter for the customers. I totally respect that decision as changing her profile and moving her to another department for just 3-4 months wouldn’t make sense and they had the heart to let her continue her work with dignity.

5) Yesterday I saw a picture from a supposedly “funny” community, which was shared by one of my associates. The picture showed a big guy, very tall and heavily built, holding hands with his girlfriend who was a much smaller woman compared to him. Right next to the picture, they had given a cartoon which had a very vulgar innuendo concerning their sex life. I’ll be open and tell you what it was because I need you to see the level of cheapness involved. It showed a train trying to go into a tunnel and in the process breaking the area around the tunnel. Very funny indeed, huh? It must have been, because people were reacting with ROFLs and “This cracked me up big time” comments. How do you think these people felt when they saw this post online? This is only one of the so many “funny” posts I have seen from “funny” communities, using real pictures of people taken without their knowledge or consent, to pass on a “funny” message. How would you like it if someone posted a picture of you on some community without your knowledge, along with a ridiculous or offensive message?

I guess that’s enough examples to make my point. I have posted many blogs about things that I have seen happening around me, some very bad. But in all those blogs, I have been extremely careful to not mention names or anything that could link the blog to a particular person, even when sometimes those people deserved to be brought out in public. That was not me being afraid of their reaction, but me showing basic courtesy and professionalism that I ought to show to anyone. I strongly believe that even when you want to appreciate someone online, you should not be sharing their pictures or videos without getting their permission first.

Please understand that just like you, other people like having their privacy respected. Just like you, they wouldn’t like their pictures or videos popping up and becoming viral on online portals without their consent. Just like you, they would feel humiliated and even hurt by the messages that come along with it and the ridiculing comments that follow it. The truth might come out at a later stage, like in the incidents I have mentioned above. But that would not make all the shame, all the hurt, all the torture and trauma that they had to go through vanish. No amount of apology might be enough to erase the permanent scar that was left in these people’s mind, being a butt of the joke for millions of people or having their lives destroyed. For a minute, think – what if these people were not strong enough to face all this public shaming and ended their lives in a moment of extreme depression? Would a retraction of the post/news or your apology bring them back?

So please, think before you encourage such posts. Think before you share.