Recently, when many customers were disappointed about not receiving their Onam sadya, some commented that they deserved it for not cooking at home.

Social media cyber
news Social Media Sunday, September 27, 2020 - 08:35

Recently, an Indian woman based in the US put up a post in a Facebook group called ‘The Malayali Club (TMC)’, which has more than 7 lakh members. She wanted to find a domestic help to stay with her mother in Kayamkulam, a town in Kerala’s Alappuzha district. Soon, the woman who was hoping to help her elderly mother back home was met with harsh comments from strangers that judged her for being a ‘bad daughter’.

One comment on her post said, “Save the post for the future so that your children can use it.” Another preachy comment said, “Parents put in all their efforts to bring up children, (but) when they are aged, the children just dump them to live peacefully.

Yet another commenter asked, “Who will look after parents like their own children? This is cruel.”

Frustrated by the barrage of unsolicited comments on a post looking for help, the admin of the group finally had to delete such comments and posted a long note apologising to the woman. The admin also strictly warned against such comments.

For many online groups on Malayalam social media, cyber bullying disguised as ‘advice’ or ‘genuine concern’ has been a major challenge. Admins of these groups who have created online communities over the years on a variety of commonalities such as geographic location or social interest find it difficult to manage those who have time on their hands to moral police others on every topic imaginable.

For example, ‘Where in Trivandrum (WIT)’ is a popular Facebook group with 26,000 members. The group aims to help members find anything in Thiruvananthapuram from mundane household items to food stuff to books. Those providing free and unsolicited advice too are plenty.

Are you a worried parent seeking help to buy the best baby food or diapers? The unsolicited advisors will tell you that they are bad for your child (how could you not know!) and that you must not use them.

When a city-based woman once asked in the group whether anyone knew where to procure chicken that was free of antibiotics and hormones for her 1.5-year-old baby, she was told: “How can you give chicken to a small baby. It is dangerous. Best to feed them vegetables and homemade baby food.”

Every time young parents, especially mothers, put forth questions related to baby needs, commenters flock to such posts to dump gratuitous and judgmental ‘advice’.

Archana Gopinath, one of the admins of the WIT Facebook group, says that such comments and arbitrary moral decrees are reflective of many in society who are ‘not bothered about personal choices’.

“Many times, the group members themselves warn against such comments. But there are situations where we admins have to step in and say that this group is meant for helping each other and not for providing advice to others until they ask for it,” says Archana.

She observes that such people are present everywhere — online and offline — and that they are the ones we find in a family function or at a friend's wedding, who suggest that a person get married soon or have a baby at the earliest.

Archana believes that such online posts amount to cyber bullying.

“In the beginning, when we started the group, one of the posts that faced such bullying was somebody seeking tuition classes for kids from junior classes. The moment the post appears, people will react (asking) why harass a child by giving tuitions at this age? Why don’t people understand that everyone has their own circumstances and that they are seeking help when they really need it? Those who seek help are not liable to explain their situation. People can provide help or just ignore. That is all others should do rather than advising,” Archana says.

She points out that such commenters cut across gender and age group. While gentle comments are welcome, harsh judgments over personal choices are not, she says.

Nitin Sisupalan, another admin of the WIT group, says that they had to face this issue a lot in the beginning and it has reduced over time as they are very careful about approving membership.

“We scrutinize the requests carefully when we get it. We have this questionnaire before approving the request. We scrutinize their profiles. Still, we will have some people who comment like this. In that case, we would warn them initially and if they continue, they will be removed from the group,” Nitin says.

He recalls that many criticise young parents who seek help in finding a good daycare for their children. “Those who give this unsought advice sound extremely misogynistic and patriarchal,” Nitin points out.

He says that publicly calling them out helps to avoid such comments. “We used to remove such comments and warn them publicly, which helped a lot,” he adds.

In another popular Facebook group, ‘Eat At Trivandrum (EAT)’, with more than 1.5 lakh members, such comments are par for the course.

Read: Small and striving: The pressures of running a home-kitchen business

Recently, during the Onam festival, many people who had ordered the traditional sadya meal from restaurants and caterers were left disappointed after they did not receive it. Annoyed customers took to social media to air their disappointment. They were soon bombarded with ‘disapproving’ users commenting, “Can't you cook at home at least for Onam? For Rs 250 you will get all vegetables to cook at home. You deserve this.”

“People who are lazy to cook deserve this,” said another comment.

Even negative reviews of restaurants or particular dishes at eateries receive such comments. Those who make such comments fail to realise though that these groups and forums, clearly named after their interest, are meant for those who like to eat out.

“We warn these people when they post such comments for the first time. If they repeat it, we would remove them. We used to delete or close comments sometimes. Nobody has to advise or educate voluntarily. There might be 100 reasons for somebody to enquire something in the group. We made this public platform to help those people,” says food blogger Anjana Gopakumar who is also one of the admins of the EAT Facebook group.

“We have already listed a set of regulations and rules for group members. Such unsolicited advice can hurt those who seek help. People do this to get attention. This is applicable in all social media platforms. We find them everywhere,” Anjana says, echoing that this forms part of social media cyber bullying.

She explains that responding appropriately to these comments helps deal with them.

“We have consulting mentors. We consult lawyers, doctors and many other experts to run this group successfully. We also get a lot of threats for not approving extremely negative comments or posts,” she adds.


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