It can be argued that the reason campaigns online are garnering such attention nowadays is because of the ease with which social media platforms allow it to happen and the increased visibility these platforms provide. However, can social media spark change in behavior, trigger thought and awareness and encourage people to better themselves?

In an attempt to raise awareness on cyber-harassment, PeopleACT had recently released bold campaign posters called #WiseUpWithWan to showcase a message of defiance against cyberharassers, and encourage netizens to choose their words wisely in an attempt to stamp down violence and shoot down hate within our online space.

Following that a series of videos were released proposing a question to the Malaysian public on online harassment, and whether the internet should be hate-free.

What followed were a range of comments with few seem to agree on what online harassment actually is, or even think that online threats should not be taken seriously. It is assumed that what happens online is not going to hurt you physically because you don’t have that physical interaction with your harasser. The idea of free speech is often invoked, and people who are targeted are often told that if they can’t take a joke, they should get off the internet.

Can social media be an effective platform to get our message across?

We’re entering an Internet era where people are spending more and more time on social media, particularly the younger generation.

While the Internet has allowed billions of people from all over the world to connect and interact easily and affordably, it also comes with a lot of emerging issues that we never had to face before.

For instance, the fact that you can be anonymous or use a fake name on social media makes it easier for people to do nasty things because they think they’ll never be caught. And, because information travels so quickly and widely across borders, even a stranger living across the globe can participate in a “mob attack” against someone.

Addressing this issue via social media is an effective platform as 98% of Malaysian youth spend their time online. If we don’t address this, the younger generation will grow up to accept cyberharassment as part and parcel of life.

Can hate comments offer a glimpse into what’s on people’s mind?

One of the biggest paradoxes about our online lives is that they are somehow not seen as real as our in-person lives
Psychological studies show online bullies tend to show low levels of empathy, guilt and responsibility for their actions — and higher levels of sadism traits, the enjoyment of causing others physical and psychological pain.
By removing a comment, we are trying to regulate the internet and offer a safe space that may cause further harm.

What does a hate-free internet looks like?

We strongly believe in self-regulation and self-censorship. A lot of people claim that social media is an unserious place and there is bound to be hatred which can’t be controlled in the name of freedom of speech. But at what expense? The age-old problem of balancing free expression with harmful, and false, content seems like an impossible problem.

There is a need to educate the public on the difference between criticism and harassment. About 20 per cent of respondents think criticism is a form of online violence according to a survey by PeopleACT.

A hate-free internet will only look like once people discuss, talk and debate in a civil manner without misusing the platform to spread hate, and cause trouble.