Tragedy of Commons: The Things That Bother Me About the Indian Online Space

I wanted to share the beautiful orange trees lacing the street we just moved to, but I was also working on a research topic that I made the mistake of Googling. The top search result of “Indian girls” on Google is a reddit community with nudity, objectification and distasteful images. Well, at least to me. But then, what did I expect from Reddit anyway! There are days when I absolutely love working online. I feel safe, wonderful and there’s always something new to learn. Yet, there are tons of times where I am alarmed by what I see people sharing under anonymous names. I think troll is everywhere irrespective of the location or nationality. But the tragedy of the Indian online space lies in the behavior that we pass off as “ok” in real lives. And don’t even get offended with. Our numbers somehow seem to amplify this effect too.

This may be true of online behavior in general, but I don’t know any other culture more closely or through research better to comment or compare.

The positives of the online space are plenty. There are more opportunities, more self-expression freedom and so much more connectivity. All the people that I interviewed and the ones that answered our survey for the research shared this sentiment of a feeling of liberation with the online space. You can read the full report here.

[New Report] How Has Digital Media Altered Self-Expression In Indian Women Brandanew

Real research aside, and coming back to my feelings about the online space, I have a few things to say (again ticked off today with the reddit community!)

Things That Bother Me About the Indian Online Space

  • Generalizations: When working on my research paper in the last couple of months, I had come across this post by a lady who in my opinion had generalized her personal experiences and called them “Indian”. There’s nothing in her generalizations that I can relate to. I am not invalidating her experiences, but it made me question, what is Indian to her? Why did she include everyone? This was definitely not the India that I grew up in.

“India, where I grew up is an extremely orthodox country where women cannot publicly drink or even wear a pair of jeans without being ridiculed as a slut. Recently, for the past couple of years, with the internet boom and the slow advent of computers, women have started to utilize this new found freedom to express. And Facebook is a big hit among these women who finally have a distraction in their lives. To us Indian women where we are not safe even in broad daylight, to walk a mile without being groped or flashed, where even being born a female is by extreme luck, Facebook is a welcome distraction. We all loved Facebook.” (Inji Pennu, 2015)

It does bother me a LOT when people in the US share generalized feelings about the India they know. One of my biggest fears about being outside of India is that I’ll develop irrelevant & false images of the country as a whole based on how my personal life was when I left. 

  • I-orientation: The good thing about the Internet is that it democratizes online space. Anyone, anywhere can share and say what they feel like. But often people (and these are people with access and privileges) take this to quite another level by talking, advising, sharing ideas without a sense of responsibility. Blogs have made everyone a preacher in their own right. And some are just disturbing.
  • Plagiarism: There’s no pride in knowing computers and hacking or copying work from others. We have so many workarounds to this. Download the image from Google, upload it on some stupid server, and then you’re free to use it. Such thieves!
  • The hurry to make money: Maybe the audience is very young, maybe it’s too impatient. Maybe because we have hacked SEO or affiliate marketing or we blog only to get brands to send us products and then copy-paste text and images from the brand itself. I get an enormous number of messages or comments on how I can make money online or via blogging before the person even has a blog!
  • Poor quality: We’re a large country. Yet what’s the excuse for not working hard? When people use phrases like “attention to detail” on their LinkedIn profiles and I see their real work, it makes me cringe.
  • Pride and irreverence: Everything is a matter of pride, everything is taken personally. There are generations that have grown up with shitloads of pride or no respect for others. They’re just there to dish down stereotypical advice or make you sound dumb, because they can. Because the Internet is free. Because they troll. And troll isn’t even limited to nameless, anonymous identities.
  • No sense of privacy or personal space: At a gym recently, I met a lady for the first time, in my first fitness class. She was Indian. And like a lot of Indians that I meet in the US, as if on cue, she asked me about my visa status, my marriage, my children, my husband and his visa status. I believe these are personal questions. They affect me and my family not strangers. And I am not entirely certain why I am expected to talk about these things with people who don’t know me. I even draw a line when people I know ask me these questions on a consistent basis. The online space does come with its inhibition breakers, and thus allows people to be upfront and unafraid to lash into other people’s private lives. Recently AIB had a hilarious video on creepy people sending Facebook messages in the “others inbox”. I think those people are real too. And I meet them everywhere.

Btw, for those asking me why did you unfriend me on Facebook, it could be one of the above.

Thank you to all those of you Indian girls who wrote on our survey and also who shared so many interesting stories. I’m so glad that we were able to work on this topic. I’ve not stopped. I just began, so keep sending me your lovely stories 🙂