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 Actor Aliff Aziz with his wife, Bella Astillah. FILE PIC
Actor Aliff Aziz with his wife, Bella Astillah. FILE PIC

IT’s frightening what technology can do, and has done. We are supposed to have become more civilised with technological advancement, but it has instead unleashed our most basic and primitive instincts, turning us into a judgmental horde that thrives on the pain and shame of others.

Examples abound of this very worrying development in the country, where the victims are, unfortunately, almost always women.

Several weeks ago, the names of two local celebrities were thrust into the limelight, not because of the drama they were starring in, but rather, due to the drama they were embroiled in after work.

Previously unknown to the majority of the Malaysian populace, married actor Aliff Aziz and his supposed paramour Afifah Nasir became overnight sensations following a confrontation with Aliff’s wife, Bella Astillah, at a place such encounters usually take place — a karaoke. Much was said about the incident, with Aliff and Afifah becoming targets of an unceasing stream of public abuse.

As always, the woman has it worse — Afifah was labelled a home wrecker, husband snatcher, a shameless hag and other unsavoury names. So relentless was the assault that she had to disable the comments section on her Instagram. The baying hordes, however, moved on to her sister Anzalna’s social media page, and thereafter Aliff’s mother, attacking her for her inferior parenting skills.

So committed were Netizens in their quest for “justice” that they even created an entry “Afifah Nasir” on Urban Dictionary. The definition is a serious blemish on her reputation and tantamount to cyberbullying.

This is not the first time Netizens have ripped apart individuals on social media, pouncing on them like a pack of wolves for the kill.

No matter what wrong was committed that fateful day in an enclosed room in Cheras, the retribution suffered by Afifah does not commensurate with whatever she was perceived to have done with a married man.

And, it’s not just alleged husband snatchers who are publicly shamed, but also royalty, women gymnasts, mothers on holiday, students, and ordinary Malaysians doing nothing extraordinary.

Lisa Surihani is known as Malaysia’s sweetheart, but she found out last week that she was not invulnerable to online bullying. She was subjected to venom and fury in cyberspace when photos of her in shorts surfaced on Instagram. She was attending a friend’s birthday with her husband and children in Langkawi when the supposedly salacious photos were taken.

The online vigilantes who commented on her “unacceptable state of undress” on social media put the worst of bullies to shame, tearing her apart for standing bare-legged in seawater and worse, daring to show off “revolting” post-birth cellulite.

Even if she had acted in an inappropriate manner, isn’t there a more refined and cultured way to advise and educate someone? Where is our budi bahasa?

Lisa, understandably, also disabled comments on her Instagram at the height of the name-calling. Johor princess Tunku Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah not only disabled comments, but shut down her public Instagram account entirely two years ago after being on the receiving end of hurtful comments on the way she dressed.

That has not made her impervious to cyberbullying. Tunku Aminah’s mother, Permaisuri Johor Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah, was affected enough by what she read recently to speak out against those who criticised her daughter’s dressing on social media during her akad nikah and persandingan ceremonies.

And, it’s not just dressing that attracts public contempt, as a local fashion designer ironically found out. Idle commentators picked on his relationship with his adopted child following an honest post on his daily life as a single father on his Instagram recently.

Indeed, cyberbullying is now considered one of the top five cyber threats in Malaysia, the third most dangerous after fraud and intrusion.

As at April 30 this year, there were already 221 cyber harassment cases recorded by CyberSecurity Malaysia. Last year, the overall number of cases was 529.

So distressing were some of these incidents that they led to suicide.

Not everyone has the fortitude of celebrities and reality stars, after all.

One college student took his life just three months ago, jumping from the 17th floor of a flat in Penang, allegedly because he was being criticised in anonymous posts online.

The grave repercussions of cyberbullying are already being felt in more technologically advanced nations, but we are catching up.

Why do seemingly right-thinking people succumb to mob mentality? Are they not aware of the dire consequences of their actions?

As members of a modern, civilised society, what has happened to us? Why have we become so judgmental? Whatever the answers, there does not appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel going by what we are continuing to see online.

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This award-winning columnist takes a light and breezy look at hot, everyday topics. A law grad turned journalist, she is now NST Associate Editor News

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