From Komal Rizvi’s selfie to a doctor’s negligence, where are your ethics, Pakistan?

Published: July 12, 2015
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On social media, however, there are no rules. We are completely and truly free.

The social media, particularly Facebook, has transformed into a deadly force to reckon with. Its raw and potent power struck me in the wake of three recent issues that, although unrelated, have garnered massive negative response by the public. In all three issues, there was another side to the story, which majority of those who were commenting on the posts relentlessly, were not aware of.

The first is that of Komal Rizvi’s controversial selfie with Edhi. There were countless memes made, which led the singer to release an explanatory post.

The second issue concerns the alleged medical negligence of Dr Shehnaz Hussaini to her nine-month pregnant patient – Shaista Omer – who died during labour under her care. The family has pressed charges against Dr Shehnaz, while she continues to hold an unforeseen complication at the time of the delivery as the cause of death.

Read the full post here.

The third is the case of a Frozen-theme cake which was labelled as being “creepy and scary”. However, it was later revealed that it was made by a baker for Icing Smiles charity and the sick children were quite delighted with it. One comment on the thread even clarified that the baker tries to “customise all the characters to Afro-American features”, which is why the cake looked the way it did.

The reaction of the public to all three issues mentioned above has been fairly appalling.

In a physical social setting with five to 10 people in the room, one tends to choose one’s words carefully. We pay attention to our dialogues, watch our tones, screen our thoughts and use a brain-to-mouth filter. We’re aware that we might be judged, we don’t want to make enemies, and consequently, we adhere to the social norms and etiquettes.

On social media, however, there are no rules. We are completely and truly free. Protected behind the screens of our laptops or smartphones, we tend to overstep the line. Stumbling across any issue at all – serious or otherwise – it becomes incumbent on us to “give our opinion”. Not knowing the whole story, not having all the facts – that does not matter. Comment we must.

We shut off our rational thinking, and embrace the emotions coursing through us. Without being remotely sensitive of how our words will affect the other person, we spew them out, our fingers tapping mercilessly, not realising that our words might reduce the person on the receiving end to a shattered and broken mess. We debate extensively and criticise endlessly on issues that don’t concern or involve us in any way. It is classic narcissism, I think, which drives us to present our thoughts. Like our opinions are so significant, the website would come crashing down if we choose to withhold judgement.

The comments on the Facebook posts regarding the incidents above makes one shudder, when one realises how mob justice is not just existent in rural and underdeveloped areas, but is also prevalent and thriving in the urban, modern cities where people have smartphones and 24/7 access to the internet.

The angry crowd of people descend onto the helpless victim, eager to dole out justice, without any prior investigation into the matter, without listening to the other side, not pausing to think how depressing and painful the victim will find their comments when they come across them. Badmouthing, swearing, hurling accusations and insulting in ways unimaginable, people continue to wreak havoc. There’s zero sensitivity and zero tact, because there’s no regulation on the social media. One is the ultimate master and authority of one’s profile, and there is no accountability for what one says.

In the civilised society where physical mob justice is considered an unacceptable crime, maybe the virtual, online version of it should be held in similar contempt. There is a consistent association between cyber bullying and severe depression. The worst part is that this type of depression is often coped with alone. The victimised person is shamed into silence, and hesitates to share the countless insults and profanities hurled at him/her by total strangers. The world hating on someone has got to sting bad.

It’s high time we start paying attention to exactly what we’re typing out on our keyboards. We need to acknowledge the heavy implications of the statements we throw around so casually on social media. We need to realise that the person we’re discussing is not just a name on the social website, but is an actual living, breathing, feeling human being. We must learn to choose our words with caution, because who knows what our words will push the other person to do.

Suicides have resulted from cyber bullying, and the responsibility solely rests with those who tortured the victim with their cruel words. Civility is as much needed on social media as it is needed in physical gatherings, because the same people are involved. You can’t get away with saying whatever the heck you want, because you don’t have the right to slam the other person with your offensive comments.

Perhaps the social media sites need to curtail some of the freedom of expression that they have provided the masses with. This freedom is clearly being misused. Greater regulation needs to be imposed. Maybe an automatic filter can be introduced to all social websites that will screen out the crass and derogatory language people use. It would defeat the original purpose of such forums, but the alternative is more troublesome.

The sad truth is that ‘freedom of expression’, fuelled on by modernism, is slowly leading to a society where nothing is holy and nothing is respected. Every symbol – be it cultural, traditional, religious or otherwise valued by a particular set of people – is open to mockery and ridicule. The result is an obscene society – a place devoid of values, proprieties, respect, and humanity. Unless we work on combating excessive freedom of speech on social media, it will persist and society will fall prey to its consequences.

Sara Pirazada

Sara Pirzada

A BBA student at IBA. She tweets as @PirzadaSara (twitter.com/PirzadaSara).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Kababi

    Stop generalizing the whole country or nation, I don’t get this collective guilt mentality Pakistanis have (now i’m guilty of doing the same to make my point).Recommend

  • UvWx Yz

    So she want to take away the voice of people in the name of ethics? like the way night package ended? If you can’t control your kidz rest of the population shouldn’t suffer from it.Recommend

  • anon0912

    Yes,I myself have witnessed that changing your profile pic to support something has brought peace in the middle east and ended poverty.Its actually quite pitiful that you have to go to Facebook to find justice which is the real issue that needs to be addressed.As for the so called cyber bullying,i am about to tell you a secret that’s gonna solve all your problems.You ready?There is a little thing called permanent delete in Facebook settings or there is the alternative option that you don’t derive your self-worth from what every Tom,Dick or Harry has to say.I applaud your attempt to explain this phenomenon called trolling and will make sure the Sharif brothers are made aware of your suggestions.Oh,and one more thing.Let it go,just let it go.Recommend

  • Commemtator

    Sadly we all have a habit of criticizing everything and everyone without knowing the background and this is where we always ignore and forget the ethics rule.Recommend

  • ayesha sheikh

    yes the social media today has become a stage for reckless jokes and bullying but we cannot undermine its positive impact as well, it is due to mediums like these that ordinary people can voice their opinion, it is through social media that we become aware of what is happening around us and most importantly it is because of social media that now decisions are reversed!!!This medium has a lot of power which if used effectively can benefit our society immensely, the mundane thinking of a few does not reflect that social media only spreads negativity. Combating freedom of speech is a devastatingly lethal idea for a society which is already deprived of this right.
    Such comments coming from students of renowned institutions truly bizarreRecommend

  • Aisha Azam

    As for the selfie thing even if komal was happy about it, one should be careful when posting something public because only you know the story behind it, people dont. So whenever you post something one should consider how it would look like to some one who doesnt know the story behind. And secondly the doctor’s negligence, how can u say that the reaction was not appropriate, everyone should condemn such thing and if social media is providing a platform than it is the best thing to do to make it public so that even if the culprit is not brought to justice he or she will be cautious for the rest of her life while in such sensitive situations. Only the cake’s case is somewhat feasible only if the story you told is true. But its not such a big cause to write about.
    If you want to write about such thing than at least you should provide enough ground for it. The examples you gave just dont support your idea.Recommend

  • Sara

    Sometimes, one can’t help but get hurt by all the hate being flung their way. There’s a permanent delete option, yes, but it doesn’t help much when you see hundreds of memes being made about you, or people from across the world criticizing your actions. The mob mentality needs to go away, period.Recommend

  • Sara

    I agree wholeheartedly with all that you’ve said about it being a revolutionary platform. Yes, it is a great way to bring about social change, you’re right. I’m not in the least implying that social media has no power to bring about positive changes. However, I also stand by my view – people really do need to watch what they type. You can’t swear or badmouth or curse someone because of something that doesn’t even concern you. Like Komal Rizvi’s selfie or the recent Shan Foods ad (about which hundreds of mocking memes were made). Before spilling out hate, maybe we should try to think about how such comments would affect us if they were directed our way. I’ve seen people using words and insults on Facebook that – as an educated student of a renowned institution, like you’ve mentioned – shock me greatly. This needs to stop. Cyber bullying is a reality, and it must be dealt with more seriously.Recommend

  • Sara

    Yep, and with social media, it has become all the easier for us to pass condemning and hateful comments. People need to start taking responsibility for their words on social media, just as they do in real social settings.Recommend

  • Sara

    No, not at all. I am a writer, and I relish the freedom to voice my opinions without anyone infringing on this basic right of mine. I’m talking about “excessive freedom” and hate-speech on social media. Is the freedom just when you spill out hate for people? Is it okay if you cuss/curse/swear/badmouth and hurl accusations, without even knowing all the facts? Is it all right for you to openly mock and ridicule and shame the other person on a social platform, especially if you don’t even know what made the other person behave the way they did? Newsflash – you have no right to do that. Freedom is okay. But freedom to hurt and crush the other person? Not so much.Recommend

  • Sara

    It’s something that the majority is doing these days. Most people. Hence the generalization is completely valid. Rather than arguing about such a trivial issue, maybe you should focus on the more important parts of this blog. Cyber bullying, hate speech, mocking/ridiculing/condemning others. Isn’t that what most people are guilty of doing these days? Lol. The “desi” people are known to be highly judgmental around the globe, and you think generalizing the whole country is not okay. Sorry, if there’s a flaw, it needs to be highlighted so we can “collectively” work on eliminating it. Peace.Recommend

  • Sara

    I don’t know if you’ve read the foul language people have been using for the doctor, but trust me, I have and it was really nasty and antagonistic. They called her names, cursed her daughter, and insulted her to no end. I’m not condoning the doctor’s actions, but I still think one should follow the rules of propriety when talking about others, especially if they have absolutely zero knowledge about the matter in question. Moreover, please know that social media is NOT an appropriate forum to deal with an issue as sensitive as the doctor’s. It’s the court. The right way would be to sue the hospital and demand an explanation. I suggest you watch the following links to fully grasp exactly what happened in the pregnancy case.
    Part 1: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2xnn2u_sehat-agenda-ep-84-part-1-pakistan-mein-doctors-ki-ghaflat-medical-negligence-in-pakistan_tv
    Part 2: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2xs1k0
    Part 3: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2xqf0g_sehat-agenda-ep-84-part-3-pakistan-mein-doctors-ki-ghaflat-medical_tv
    As for Komal Rizvi’s selfie, what was the big deal about it? Or, for that matter, what was such a big deal about the Shan Foods ad that was recently aired? In both cases, several mocking memes were made. Um, why? Who gives you the right to openly ridicule any person, even if she/he happens to be a renowned celebrity? They’re still people and they feel. This is such a typical trait of our society – unnecessary and endless interfering.Recommend

  • anon0912

    Let me put it for you very simply.Would you rather we all live in north Korea ?The good comes with the bad that’s just how it is.You can either learn to deal with it and laugh about it or get bent out of shape for no reason.You cant really convict people of thought crimes so do yourself a favor,let stupid people be stupid and strive towards a better world yourself.That’s all you can really do.No one is denying that bullying is wrong but what about when it happens in the real world?There is no one to protect you all the time and in the end you just have to stand up to for yourself.Recommend

  • Humanfirst

    No one hates Komal Rizvi, many in the facebook-nation don’t even know the time when she was famous but every Pakistani respects Mr. AS Edhi, God forbid if one of our elders was in a hospital at this age would we allow a friend to come take a Selfie with ’em having a continent wide smile on his/her face and post it to facebook?
    I am not justifying the reactions, to Komal Rizvi’s selfie but shouldn’t we all be doing some sort of self-censorship before going public with our lives? Now about the reactions, I don’t know if you are religious or not but history tells us that almost all of the prophets in all major religions were shepherds, because every sheep moves in different direction just like humans, making them all walk in one direction isn’t easy. Now we are no prophets nor are we all leaders, and it is even harder to make the facebook-sheep walk an ethical line, thus self-censorship is the only thing that can help us get through without getting cursed like that. I am sorry I don’t know the complete background of the other two stories so I’d avoid commenting on them. Recommend

  • sana

    Agree with everything, but the memes were funny, come on!! ..i wouldve laughed if i were themRecommend

  • UvWx Yz

    lol..look who was fuming. There is always block/ignore button.Recommend