Cyber Harassment Survivor’s Kit – STORIES OF SURVIVORS
The scariest space I have ever been
Understanding an Internet troll
Farya Yunus works as a researcher at a market research company in Taman Tun Dr. Ismail. Being a researcher often means she is naturally curious about various social issues that affect her as a Malaysian woman in her twenties. So it doesn’t come as a total surprise when she decides to join an online closed group that discusses alternative religious views such as atheism and agnosticism on Facebook.
Despite the contentious nature of the topic, the group has already managed to attract close to 100 members, a mixed-gender community consist of mostly young middle-class urban Malaysians who grew up in fairly westernised upbringings.
Farya observes that the discussions in the group can be robust sometimes, but it typically confines itself to conversations between the same three to four members who seem to be perpetually active online. Many of the discussions revolve around the philosophical aspects of atheism, agnosticism and free-thinking. Nothing significantly interesting but yet has the ability to impart educational values at times.
After joining the group for about five months, Farya begins to notice one particular member with the username Minah Fatimah who is constantly and deliberately posting inflammatory comments that are not necessarily related to atheism or agnosticism. By then, Farya has been on the Internet long enough to recognise Minah Fatimah as what many netizens would term as a troll. She understands that trolls get off from reading the reactions of people to comments they make. Therefore, their principle mission is to make their comments as offensive as possible, with the hope of inflicting as much discomfort, anger and humiliation on their targets. The comments do not even have to be logical or relevant. They only need to be hateful and hurtful.
While most people on the group manage not to bite the bait, there are a few who has bothered to respond to Minah Fatimah’s comments; many presumably out of boredom with the exception of one person, Yazid Azzat, whose engagement with Minah Fatimah appears to come from a well-meaning place. One can see that he tries to stir the discussion into a meaningful discourse. However, the harder he tries to get Minah Fatimah to listen to reason, the more he sends the troll in her on a field trip along with a nicely packed picnic basket.
Anyone can see that it is only a matter of time when all hell will break loose once Minah Fatimah succeeds in locating Yazid’s weak spot, inevitably turning him defensive and combative. When that happens, she holds him at the precise spot where she wants him to be.
Minah Fatimah: You must be lost and your faith is weak for you to be in this group. You are one of those Muslims whose balls are perpetually sucked by dogs and you like it so much that you have no desire to leave your faith.
Yazid Azzat: You make no sense at all! First you said my faith is weak and then you said I have no desire to leave my faith. You need to make up your mind.
Minah Fatimah: Errrr….I’m not the fucking guy who thinks Allah, is the one and only God. Anyone who believes in that by default has neither sense nor sensibility in them. Anyway, you are a hypocrite. Everyone here knows you like to suck dicks and fuck young boys’, while your God enjoys watching it from above.
Yazid Azzat: OMG, can you just listen to yourself?! Who are you?!
Everyone else on the group tend to observe these heated exchanges in silence. Farya, on the other hand, would occasionally try to break up the argument by urging them to calm down, especially when she senses the hostility and tension between the two escalating or spinning out of control. Of course, none of her attempts is ever met with success seeing how her voice, represented by one or two liners only, gets drowned in a turbulent sea of mockery, hate, fear, anger and defensiveness.
Feeling defeated and fed-up, Farya hits the report button beneath each comment made by Minah Fatimah in the past 30 minutes and logs off her Facebook account.
She decides it is time to detox and give social media a break.
“Please say it is not true”
About a week after Farya stays away from Facebook, she finds herself rudely woken up by the frantic sound of her phone beeping on an early Sunday morning. As soon as she thinks it is the last beep, an eruption of customised digital sound ensues like a fireworks display at KLCC on New Year’s Eve.
Still feeling disorientated from the lack of sleep as result of partying hard the night before, she curses under her breath, “Who is texting so early this morning?! It’s Sunday for fuck sake!”
It takes her a few seconds to hoist herself up to reach for her phone lying on the bedside table. She gasps as soon as she sees the number of WhatsApp messages that has been bombarding her phone since two minutes ago. Looking outside her window, it dawns on her how early it must have been since morning has barely even broken yet. Her brightly lit phone screen shows it is only 6:12am.
The first text she chooses to read comes from her colleague, Sandra. There are only three messages from her. The rest of the 23 messages come from Fairuz, another member she met at the closed group on Facebook, and maybe about three to four other texts from several unidentified numbers. She’ll deal with Fairuz and the rest later.
“Hey, you awake?”
“Click on this link asap – looks like you are in big trouble.”
“Please say it’s not true.”
Farya clicks on the link and what pops up appears to be a blog post. At first glance, nothing looks unusual, except for the blogger’s choice of tacky background theme and font. It is obviously a nondescript blogger with a name she has never heard of before – Pejuang Harimau.
She quickly scans through the article without much interest until a PowerPoint thumbnail with an old photo of her catches her attention. She has used the photo as her Facebook profile about a month ago, and remembers receiving a fair bit of thumbs up and encouraging comments here and there, complimenting her lovely smile in spite of the neon-coloured braces she has only begun to wear a month ago.
By now, her curiosity has consumed her and she clicks on the file to find out what the content could be. To her horror, the PowerPoint slides reveal all sorts of private information about her, peppered with various accusations aimed at assassinating her character.
Looking through the slides, she could not believe how a copy of her national identity card, work address, mobile phone number, names of her parents and younger sister, marital status, educational background, voter information and social media accounts, could appear on the blog for the whole online world to see.
*Inspired by a real survivor’s account