Dear Everyone,

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After an excruciating six weeks of testimonies in the high-profile case of two famous people in Hollywood wherein they shared allegedly horrifying experiences at the hands of each other, their intimate life, stories of abuse, trauma and everything in between, as they battled it out in the presence of a judge, jury and curious cameras that would reel in the world outside the four walls of the courtroom in Virginia, gleeful spectators around the world watched on.

While the court only ruled the verdict mid-last week in favour of the A-list actor who is prominently known for playing an iconic character spanning much of his career, the social media-verse chimed in with their own point of views.

Interestingly, in the duration of the hearing while both the plaintiff and the defendant alongside their legal teams put their best foot forward to convince a jury of their innocence, one of the two actors were already ruled guilty in the court of public opinion almost immediately after it began. An overwhelming amount of people across geographies, rallied for the actor who countersued his ex-wife for defamatory claims as the consequence to her allegations levelled against him six years prior in an op-ed. He noted it left a giant black stain in his reputation in addition to suffering severe consequences in his profession.

Throughout the trial, apart from a bizarre peak into a courtroom where two people who exhibit their acting skills for a living, day after day took the stand to tell truth, parts of social media mercilessly weighed in on the matter which sometimes blurred the lines of acceptability and decency.

True, this is a milestone moment to note that men too suffer abuse at the hands of women, not only vice versa but in elation of drawing new lines, we should remember not to cross some others.

This trial, one of its kind, had cameras monitoring everyone’s every move. The defendant’s every turn was scrutinised by streamers and even mainstream media with a fine tooth comb. From her tears to her snot, the way she dressed, the way she wore her hair, the smirks, the smiles, what she did, what she said, down to how she held a tissue in her hand, it was all unapologetically dissected and mocked.

Where the setting already comes with sweaty palms and butterflies in the belly – even for the biggest actors, having had a traumatic past of any kind, to have their life deconstructed by pairs of eyes that multiply infinitely beyond the confinement of a courtroom, to be openly judged by the world, I imagine would be intimidating to say the least. But on cue, out came the memes, distasteful hashtags, parodies and strategically edited videos heavily ridiculing the actress without sparing her the chance of even human error. 

No matter which camp you stood by, both sides were clearly in the wrong at some point or the other. Yes, there was a case winner some of us recognised and was rooting for a few weeks into the trial, for on the other side we saw and heard (no pun intended) clear counts of fabrication, misconduct and inconsistencies but that is not to say, the actor who won the case was any saint. He too said and did some unacceptable things and she certainly was subjected to a fair share of abuse by him. However, it seemed as though a majority of social media users shredded the defendant of a potential second chance just because they could. I don’t think folks on social media who thrive on such content remember that on the other end of those memes and mockery, are people, bad people they may be, but still human beings who need help in one form or another. And just because we can stoop to new lows in the endless pit of vilification, we don’t need to go there.  

Of course everyone is entitled to have their opinion but what really does it take to make one want to go that extra mile to relegate someone’s experience that may or may not be true and treat it like a courtroom drama whose matured character arcs are an easy gauge to pin it down to a mere ‘she’s not the victim, he is’ verdict just because they have front row seats and popcorn to their aid?

While some tuned in to observe, and others, to prove their own verdict to be the right one, usual suspects rose to the occasion. Digital vultures spared no time to cash in on the highly publicised toxic relationship – many admitted to garnering millions of views in mere hours by only sharing snippets of the hours-long trial only because it was trending, although anyone clueless about all the happenings would find it hard to grasp it in entirety just from those reels, yet, the plethora of short video clips made thousands of dollars off a few seconds of the hearing, even here in Sri Lanka. Social media algorithms and social bots showed us an influx of content pertaining to the same but with a one-sided narrative that almost prominently shaped our opinions about the defendant even if we liked it or not.

By doing this in overwhelming numbers, to relentlessly troll her for what she did or didn’t do, aren’t we sparing her basic decency and amplifying the public humiliation that she is already faced with? Is it necessary that we dig deep as we can go? Keep in mind this is to someone who is said to have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder by a clinical and forensic psychologist who testified in the case after reviewing all the case documents.

No doubt the verdict should be accepted and celebrated. My point is, we need to re-evaluate content we consume and be more sensitive in the way we react online.

Sincerely,
Food for thought

By Dilshani Palugaswewa