Panel discussion: Being kind online

Social media quickly became grounds for dialogue and debates but remained an uncharted territory that ties the whole world together on an accessible forum. While it revolutionised how we connect, it hasn’t been all that pretty or straightforward. Online bullying has been a new trajectory that has led to emotional abuse, harassment and compromised mental hygiene of masses that engage online with people they may or may not know and get reduced to labeling, name calling and in some cases, banning from groups/ pages. Often times, it may come from someone seeking online validation and the not-so-curious case of the number of likes seems like a driving force behind bullying.

In an attempt to create safe digital spaces for youth free of cyber bullying and online hate speech, OpenMic Pakistan held a panel discussion at The Nest in Karachi as the chosen SPEAK! Champion 2019 for Global Action Day Campaign of CivicUs, a global alliance of civic organisations. The panel was chaired by Shehzad Ghias Sheikh (lawyer and comedian), Abdullah Nizamani (lawyer and author), Zenia Toric Azaad (journalist and admin of Facebook group Soul B) and Zaki Hyder (youth activist). The point of discussion raised was how digital independence from the safety of staying behind the screen makes people insensitive to the mental aftermath and consequences of their bullying.

Shehzad recounts his personal experience of bullying and mocking on his page which led him to go on a social media detox. “Social media is a drug. Social media is a monster and we need to keep a check of it all the time or it will get out of hand,” says Ghias. Nizamani shed some light on how to tackle cyber bullying and filing complaints. Azaad as an admin of an online group talks about her experience with women who have resorted to drug abuse after facing cyber harassment. Hyder talks about his experience with the youth and their out-of-check actions in digital spaces that lack empathy. The discussion ended with attendees and panelists pledging to keep their online engagements in check and calling out bullies on digital platforms.

OpenMic, a social startup engaging millennials in the conversations about the future of Pakistan through open dialogue and policy debates; it was initiated by a group of students in NED and then later branched outside campus and conducts interactive panel discussions to encourage youth-centric dialogue and activism.