Does anyone remember the year 1998? It was the time of adolescence and the emergence of a powerful tool called the Internet. I still remember growing up in the Middle East, how this service that seemingly connected you with the world made its way into our lives. It was an expensive service that gave you the latest information from across the world and the ability to chat and see everyone from strangers to loved ones. It was expensive then at 10 AED ($3 USD) per hour that came with a connection using a telephone dial up connection. It was an exciting new technology and showed how computers that were used in those days for making word documents and playing car /cricket games could be used for connecting with people. Those days were famous for breaking news with the last significant one being the OJ Simpson trial that wrapped earlier keeping the whole world in its tenterhooks. 1998 however came to be known for a different reason. The Clinton Lewinsky affair and the Starr report.
Bill Clinton was a very successful president. He had a fabulous first term where he rescued America from post Gulf War recession onto the path of prosperity. He was rewarded handsomely with a second term and the future of the U.S looked bright like never before. Then came the sex scandals. It hit him hard with revelations from every nook and corner from various women who had sexual flings with the president. One of them stuck on to him like a blood thirsty mosquito-the Lewinsky affair.
What happened next was simply a tsunami of news. People were talking everywhere on how the most powerful man on Earth used the respected White House to have a fling with a intern. It was the topic on the newspapers, radio, television, friends, coffee shops, and even religious places where voices were heard on how absolute power corrupts. Even in this strange new medium called the Internet, we had chat rooms where you could hook up with any random stranger online and discuss the Clinton Lewinsky affair. It was the topic of discussion everywhere. Even though both of them were criticized heavily, however the narrative went against Monica Lewinsky.Then came the grand confession from Clinton that he had lied under oath to the American people. It was hard for the people to forgive the president but he did escape impeachment. During that time till 1998, this issue was the staple diet for news media across the world. Bill Clinton was heavily insulated from many of the criticism because of the immunity he enjoyed as the president. But Monica Lewinsky totally disappeared from public light. She was ridiculed for years and no one heard of her or even spoke of her.
It all changed last week. In the TED talk held in Vancouver last year she came as a keynote speaker to speak about her life and the harassment that she faced. During her hiatus, the Internet developed itself into a mammoth of information including its presence in toppling governments, spearheading change, discussion and also a place where people who freely express themselves without limits. The world of 2015 has shrunk itself into a village place where millions of people have discussions over the color of a dress to choosing the name of a celebrity kid. It is into this world where Monica has resurfaced herself as a champion against online bullying or in some words trolling. She aspired to get hold of her life’s narrative back and also help others script their narrative in a world where you would be booed, jeered and even insulted by strangers before you can take a single step.
Online bullying or trolling depicts the brutal nature of human hypocrisy. It facilitates easy mudslinging in the guise of an online identity to tar individuals and the hard earned reputations. I have seen bullying in both real and virtual worlds. Though it is easy to stand up to real life bullying, it is however not entirely easy to do it in the same way online. Last year during the Indian election, yours truly supported a nationalist candidate for the position of the Indian Prime Minister. Any post if posted on social media drew fierce debates from people misinformed by a corrupt Indian media narrative. Friends quickly turned foes and any difference of opinion was construed as betrayal and was shunned by either blocking or losing of the online friendship. But eventually when my favoured candidate won, many friends were never seen after.
I am not saying that no one has a right to their own opinion. Maybe many of the friends might have felt that by having a different opinion and boldly broadcasting it to their timelines, I am also being a bully. It is hard to say is there a fine line segregating them. However, everyone has the right to script their own narrative. No one should be forced to accept what is notion of how others think about them or their viewpoint on how they should live their life. We are all the Masters of our own destiny. And we cannot allow anyone to dominate that belief.Photo by Katrina Wright on Unsplash