Sangeetha Janachandran, better known as the social media manager of the Women in Cinema Collective, is no stranger to online abuse. In fact, her testimonial at the WCC press conference in 2018 was a strong challenge to everyone who used the mask of anonymity provided by social media sites as an opportunity to abuse others, especially women.
She also has an identity beyond the WCC, as a communications manager with 14 years of experience in India and abroad, someone who started her own marketing and communications company and who is currently awaiting her doctoral degree after completing her PhD at Bangalore University.
"I was supposed to get it in March but then the virus happened," she says wryly. "I did my PhD in the evolution of communication in the age of social media, using a case study of Kerala, particularly the impact of social media on marketing, news, education and development."
She is supportive of Refuse The Abuse, the recent WCC campaign against all forms of cyber-harassment. "The WCC tagline is 'Equal Spaces, Equal Opportunities'. I have seen some positive change after the WCC started advocating on social media. Really, the campaign is for all who have been subject to abuse irrespective of their gender and how as a society we must refuse such unethical behaviour online."
Sangeetha's appreciation for the WCC and the space it has in her life is very evident. She was introduced to the group by actress Parvathy Thiruvothu, her sister, and with whom she shares a very close relationship.
"I first volunteered with the collective for some years before taking official membership," she said. "Even after I spent two years of facing everything as a volunteer, I still chose to take up membership. People should understand - there is something they must be doing right."
"Online abuse has a lot of psychological impacts. Cinema is a very exposed space, fame comes with a price. We are constantly policed for what we wear, eat, do…everybody has an opinion on what we do...I call myself a recovering people pleaser and it's taken me years to understand that if you stay quiet and choose to do nothing, your silence is more damaging than anything you say," Sangeetha explains. She also talked about some abuse she has witnessed, including sexually charged comments left under young actress Saniya Iyyapan's photos.
"One commenter said: "If you are this horny, get on a bus to Delhi," she recalls. "How can people talk about rape like this? She's only 18!" She refuses to call it just "cyberbullying" as she feels it dilutes the severity of the issue.
So how does she deal with this in pages that she manages? Sangeetha has seen her fair share of online abuse thanks to her association with the WCC, with Parvathy and as a woman in general. But not many know that she also managed pages for the Mohanlal movie 'Odiyan' before it's release, her first film page.
"It didn't go over well," she laments. "The audience was rather disappointed as the movie didn't live up to their expectations."
One thing she advises doing is deleting hateful or toxic comments before parallel discussions start. "Someone posts something you know, hurtful or hateful and then you have ten-twenty people responding to that comment and not the original content…it's better to sit there and curate it and then when someone comes to post something hateful then all they see is constructive criticism or positive comments and they have to think twice. Negativity attracts negativity."
When asked about the WCC's other activities, Sangeetha brightens up with enthusiasm. "All workplaces should have an organisation that puts things in perspective and rights of gender balances."
She condemned the tendency to run kangaroo courts on social media for the sake of publicity. When asked about the ongoing controversy surrounding the role of Rhea Chakraborty in the death of Sushant Singh Rajput, she was emphatic that people should not attack someone without any clear evidence of wrongdoing.
Finally, after all this fear, hatemongering and abuse, is she still afraid of being online as a woman? Sangeetha laughs.
"I am not scared at all actually. I was somebody who used to believe silence is a virtue, which has taken me years to unlearn. If you are given a space in a personal or professional capacity to use your voice you must use it."
While most people choose to avoid their online harassers or go off social media entirely, Sangeetha confessed that she sometimes confronts the people who post abusive or hateful messages, asking them why they do it. Some apologies. Some simply delete their accounts. "We are all human at the end of the day," she remarks.
A firm believer in the power of social media and how much potential it has to do good. "As much as positives are there, there are a lot of things we need to be mindful of…paid hate campaigns, targeted attacks, fake profiles, there's a lot of unhealthy and unethical practices which fall under cyber abuse and cyber harassment," she warns.
"It is important to teach people how to collect evidence of abuse and how to report it. Our law is actually quite powerful and we can actually get justice. But there is a serious lack of awareness on how to get back at people who harass you - which is a big problem."
The internet is a democratic place where keeping discourse level-headed and friendly is a consistent and ongoing exercise. We need to be mindful of the online space. Everybody has the power to communicate and we need to be conscious of that, is her motto when going online and one that she tries to make other people aware of. It is in this volatile space that Sangeetha uses her skill and experience as a communications consultant to navigate.
Sangeetha is also busy with her own marketing company Stories Social, which has handled the social media marketing and communications of Malayalam blockbusters like 'Uyare', 'Virus' and 'Android Kunjappan'. The company also handles brands and people like the Kochi Music Foundation. In addition to this she handles communications for the likes of Parvathy Thiruvothu,Vidhu Prathap, Nadiya Moidu, Divya Unni, Vineeth C K and Prannoy H S.