In Black Mirror, the British dystopian science fiction anthology television series (available on Netflix), the episode titled Hated in the Nation has an eerily relatable story. It shows how online hatred – more popularly known as ‘trolling’ on social media – can impact the society at large. The episode starts with the investigation into the death of a journalist who wrote a column with an unpopular opinion, and evoked so much online abuse that her name, followed by the hashtag #DeathTo, trends on social media. The twist in the story, however, comes when the ‘social media warriors’ who hide in the comfort of their online accounts and enjoys anonymity while spreading negativity, are forced to pay a huge price for their social media wars.
The episode is a lesson on how social media is often used as a battle ground against freedom of speech, ironically using the same right as an excuse. Anyone can be vilified, trolled, verbally abused, and there is no immediate consequence to these ‘trolls’ who move on with their lives. Official investigations by the police or judiciary seems to have no impact on their views, and these self-proclaimed messiahs of justice even deny the constitutional right to privacy for their victims.
The most recent of this dilemma in India has been evident in the case of Rhea Chakraborty, who has been put on trial by media for the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who allegedly died by suicide on June 14. Anyone and everyone who has spoke up for Rhea in the past few weeks – including Bollywood actors Taapsee Pannu and Swara Bhasker, and most recently Vidya Balan – have been ‘trolled’ mercilessly by the so-called ‘Warriors for Justice for SSR.’ This bunch even includes prominent journalists, who have spewed venom and drama against the 25-year-old woman on whom investigation is still on.
The dictum that ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ seems to have been forgotten, with a rising intolerance against anyone who does not agree with the ‘warriors.’ On Tuesday, September 1, Vidya – responding to south actor Lakshmi Manchu’s tweet – said the same thing.
Anyone with common sense can see that Vidya is not claiming that Rhea is innocent; she is asking for reason and justice to prevail instead of the media sensationalism that has surrounded the case since day one. However, Twitter has been flooded with abuse against Vidya for the past three days, with many accusing her of not sympathising with SSR’s family and supporting a ‘criminal’ – referring to Rhea against whom no criminal charge has been proven yet. In fact, the CBI investigation which began into the case a few weeks ago, has so far found no evidence to show that he was murdered.
I didn’t know Sushant on a personal level nor do I know Rhea but what I know is, it only takes to be a human to understand how wrong it is to overtake judiciary to convict someone who isn’t proven guilty. Trust the law of the land for your sanity and the deceased’s sanctity 🙏🏼 https://t.co/gmd6GVMNjc— taapsee pannu (@taapsee) August 30, 2020
Of course this is not the first time that a celebrity is being torn apart by media and online trolls. Earlier this year, actor Deepika Padukone was at the receiving end of online abuse after she went to JNU, in support of the anti-CAA protestors there. Following SSR’s death, actress Alia Bhatt was also targeted by the trolls, just for belonging to a family in the industry. Just two days ago, actress Shibani Dandekar wrote a heart-felt message supporting Rhea, who has been her friend for a decade; in no time, trolls attacked not just Shibani but also the celebrities who agreed with her statement.
And this online bashing is not restricted to actors alone. A few years ago, MP Shashi Tharoor was at the receiving end of media tirade after the death of his wife Sunanda Pushkar. In fact, he fought for his ‘right to silence’ against the trial by media, which he said was prejudicing the investigation into the alleged suicide. (In August 2017, Delhi High Court ruled in Tharoor’s favour.)
However, Rhea – against whom any crime related to SSR is yet to be proven – has been denied this right to silence by the SSR warriors. Now, anyone who seems to be speaking up in her favour are being threatened too. May be we could all do with a re-watch of Hated in the nation.