Public Tweets, privacy and necessity to be private in public eyes

CYBER CRIME AGAINST WOMEN BY DEBARATI HALDER

When  the Bengali cinema lovers just woke up from the first shock of the death of the legendary actress Suchitra Sen, came the news of the death of Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor, better known to many as the wife of Dr. Shashi Tharoor, the extremely noticeable union minister of India. People were in awe of Suchitra Sen even when she was lying in Keoratola crematorium ground waiting to be cremated by her daughter. The main reason: she was an extremely personal lady and unlike many of her contemporaries, she neither appeared in public for more than twenty something years, nor did she encourage anyone to know more about her through the electronic media. She was not present in either Facebook or Twitter and no one knew how she looked like after she appeared in her last cinema. We, the generation who grew up watching  Big Bs getting older looks and new actors like Shah Rukh Khan and his contemporaries taking the stage from the older generation, hardly watched any Bengali cinema during the late 80’s or 90’s until Rituporno Ghosh brought back the magic of commercial Bengali cinema back to us in late 90’s and early 2000s. We, like our parents and grandparents, wanted to see Suchitra Sen and be in touch with her, but in vain. Internet and social media never appealed to her to get reconnected with her fans. But when she died on 17th January,2013 Facebook and Twitter were swept over by comments, condolences and pictures of her. I even came across “Suchitra Sen hot” key words in Google even though the images showed her two granddaughters who are also actors and not her in any such ‘hot scene’. Photographs of her exhausted and distressed daughter and mourning granddaughters in the crematorium were shared by many electronic news channels and these were hot favourite in the net on the day until suddenly the private lady was eclipsed by another very much public figure Sunanda.
          I loved watching Shashi and Sunanda’s photographs over the internet like million others. They were very much ‘public’ and I was one of Shashi Tharoor’s 2,050,605   followers in Twitter. Occasionally I used to  reTweet his very informative Tweets and like many others I took deep interest in  reading the family drama involving his ‘hacked Twitter account’, his wife and a Pakistani journalist( see http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/tharoor-makes-statement-about-marriage-after-wife-sunanda-s-twitter-outburst/article1-1173465.aspx) . I like million others, took him to be a public icon who should be ‘followed’, ‘watched’, talked about and criticised for his views. I obviously was not following Sunanda and I am sure, like me, there are many who started scrutinising her tweets for the first time when Shashi Tharoor gave a joint statement with her  regarding their marriage and  news channels started increasing their TRPs by publicising this. Interestingly, it was not Shashi Tharoor’s tweets which drew attention, it was Sunanda’s ones. Simultaneously, the Pakistani journalist involved therein  probably received millions of visitors for her tweets within a few hours as well. Some of Sunanda’s tweets and Pakistani journalist’s tweets did definitely provide a chain of blame game centring ‘a husband’ and  two women’s relationships with him. I instantly wondered how one can become so much public about one’s assumptions regarding personal relations. This incidence is not an example of bullying; I have seen many instances of death caused by Facebook bullying which were public and the death was caused mainly by the emotional stress the victim went through after realising what the audience (who are watching the bullying communication) would think about him/her. But this is definitely a very bold example of right to express oneself publicly and what could be the consequence in real life. Many academic researches on online victimisation have shown how a particular communication, seeing an unwanted image or even constantly thinking of the issue take a toll on the health of the victim. This may have played an important role in her ‘unnatural’ death along with other factors as are now being revealed by the police, doctors and also by the media. But the question is, does one really need to be this much public in the social media in certain cases even if he/she is a public figure?  Both Sunanda and the Pakistani journalist had pulled in lots of issues in their respective tweets and indeed the diplomatic relation of the two countries is also involved now. This is one brilliant example as how an issue which should have been a private affair, can draw more than desired attention because of the ‘public nature’ of  it. Some may say they are public figures and they should be transparent. But is this much transparency wanted especially when it has resulted in a death? Apart from personal Tweets, the investigation have  also started analysing  CCTV footage, personal text messages , emails that have been exchanged within all three of them. But as the criminal procedures and constitutional rights guarantee, some of such evidences would never be published respecting the right to privacy of the people involved. The ‘public Tweets’ may remain forever giving a sad example as how desire to remain in public eyes through publicly expressing personal thoughts may create an unwanted image which may never be broken and which can become chosen item for trolls for jeopardizing the situation more.
          India is undergoing a tremendous change in legal procedural codes in respect to media reports ( including reports, status updates or tweets by civil society members) of the crimes, privacy of the victim as well as the accused with the case of sexual harassment of law interns by judges. The transition may take our privacy law understandings to new heights which may have positive as well as negative implications. This case of Sunanda Tharoor may remotely add some contribution to the ongoing transition if and when the prosecution starts throwing light on the publicly expressed private comments in the social media and the ‘sharing’ of these by other fellow Tweet-handles. Nonetheless, this would remain an example as where to draw a limit line of privacy in the social media when one is very much public.
Please Note: Do not violate copyright of this blog. If you would like to use informations provided in this blog for your own assignment/writeup/project/blog/article, please cite it as “Halder D. (2014),Public tweets, privacy and necessity to be private in public eyes19th January,2014, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com/

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