Published: 03rd October 2020
In conversation with Radhika Radhakrishnan: A feminist researcher's guide on surviving the internet
Social researcher Radhika Radhakrishnan shares her experience with sexual violence on social media and how she manages to stay true to her intentions
In the cutthroat world of the internet, rape and death threats have become dangerously normal. While women watch safe spaces diminish in the country, internet comment threads and discussion groups have become open cesspools of gender violence and pure, unadulterated hate. Feminist researcher, Radhika Radhakrishnan experienced this first hand earlier this year when an old picture of her wearing what has been called ‘immodest’ clothing were dug up on social media and shared across various platforms without her permission, often with vile comments accompanying it.
“I had to leave the social media for a few months,” she says, “For me, the law is the last resort. It takes a lot of emotional bandwidth to deal with it. I have filed sexual harassment cases before and it has drained a lot of my mental health without giving back anything that I would call justice. When it comes to the death and rape threats that I receive on a daily basis, I just find that muting my mentions or not checking my comments help.”
When did it become necessary for outspoken feminists to steer clear of open spaces online? Radhika is a TISS graduate who studies the intersections of gender, sexuality, technology and politics. She currently works at the Internet Democracy Project where she does qualitative research on how technology policies can be improved from a feminist perspective. And from what she has learnt, the abuse and violence is a form of punishment that is meted out to women who deviate from cultural expectations by having strong opinions, being loud or being perceived as aggressive. She adds, “The sad thing is that I’m actually one of the privileged ones along the axis of caste and religion. For Dalits, transgender or Muslim women, it’s a whole lot more.”
As a researcher, Radhika realises that her field tends to be exclusionary. And this is precisely why she continues to hold her own on the internet. She explains, “For me, social media is a bridge. The mass public is not going to read an academic research paper to understand a particular issue. So these ideas need to be broken down and communicated in an understandable format for non academics to understand if it has to have any value. Using social media is a way for me to contribute to the discourse in the world about gender outside of academic journals.”
Outside of academic circles, you can find Radhika’s take on politics, gender and technology on her Twitter page and through an upcoming podcast on the same subject on Suno India. “People use this term called ‘armchair activist’ for people who use social media for activism. I don't personally agree with that,” she says. “I think that there’s value in different kinds of activism. What happens offline is often reflected online. If women face vitriol offline because of their identities, sex or gender, it continues online. And this extends to activism.” Case in point, a Twitter thread of Radhika’s on period leave stirred up so much attention that it sparked a conversation about it at the offices of the Internet Freedom Foundation, eventually leading up to them instituting a company policy. Now that’s a hell of a lot of work to get done from an armchair.