“I’d lick your sweat.”
It was the middle of the day, I was eating my lunch and I found myself staring at my phone in total shock. What had I just read? Did I mistake it for something else? I clicked backwards on Instagram Stories to double check, and I was mortified to see that I wasn’t mistaken.
A moment ago, I had been applauding a video of my friend Talitha having successfully achieved a pull-up challenge milestone. Lifting your bodyweight once is a very impressive feat for anyone, let alone multiple times. Straight after her video was a screenshot of a message from an unknown follower, however, what she had been rewarded with wasn’t congratulations, but rather an invasive, vulgar and very direct message written in a disturbingly aggressive sexual tone.
Talitha Tan is a popular personality and a successful singer with passions for both fitness and food. Talitha’s popularity is not hard to understand seeing she is blessed with an endearing personality briming with positive vibes. If you visit her Instagram page, you will be met with her infectious smile and a variety of posts with one thing in common – they are all enthusiastic and encouraging in nature, whether in the form of delicious meals to try, new songs for our enjoyment or inspiring workout habits. However, what she exports in feel-good factor is not always reciprocated, instead she is an uncomfortably regular victim of Internet harassment.
“I get a lot”, she revealed as I tried to develop an understanding of what I was seeing unfold far too regularly on my Instagram stories. “And I think I could say the same for 99% of girls on social media. They send me a bunch of dick pics or random porn GIFS. I ignore them, but sometimes it’s just never-ending spam”. I was truly taken aback, however, what really saddened me was her revelation that she was used to it, in fact she had “just kind of came to terms with how humans are just horrible creatures”. For a young lady, who dedicates so much of her free time to creating feel-good factors for others to enjoy, to become so desensitized by sexual harassment seems desperately unfair.
As time passed I learnt that Talitha wasn’t the only friend I had suffering from such abuse, with more and more alarming screenshots appearing on my social media feed. PR guru, DJ and trendsetter Ira Roslan posted an inappropriate and unwarranted message she received from one of her followers. I was surprised it was an all too regular occurrence that left her feeling “disrespected, disgusted and shocked!”, she shared. “It feels like the sender has no respect for my person, my boundaries”. The fact that innocent women were being disturbed during their day-to-day life is disgusting, and even though the senders don’t get a response from the women they stalk, it doesn’t stop them. “The persistence of these senders is shocking considering their attempts are always ignored”, Ira sighed.
Over a third of Malaysian women have experienced sexual harassment, with the All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) reporting an increase in online sexual harassment during the movement control order (MCO). Despite the cases I have cited mostly arising from Instagram, it is not alone as a medium facilitating abuse. Wild Ginger’s Editor, Aida Azrin, recently shared that the Reddit group r/MalaysGoneWild, which was exposed for sharing leaked intimate images of local women and underaged girls without their consent, had still not been taken down. She was shocked to find a subreddit with men she had never met asking each other for her pictures, but was even more appalled that after reporting it, Reddit had said it didn’t violate their Content Policy. “It’s terrifying to know that such a big platform actually enables this predatory behaviour through their own policies. What kind of unsafe community guidelines do they have to still allow women to be violated?”, she said.
Social media companies have attempted to restrict access from strangers to their intended targets, with the presence of the secondary inbox allowing the recipient the chance to vet their messages from unknown entities. Images are blurred, offering a good filter from inappropriate senders. Yet there are still glaring incompetencies, such as the ability for users to mask their identities by using fake profiles, and limited controls to stop this from happening. AWAM has urged the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and police to take sterner action to protect women.
Whilst everyone I spoke to, who has experienced this harassment, revealed a joint sense of belief that the social media companies should keep increasing their efforts to combat such antisocial behaviour, what is more apparent is the general consensus that this isn’t a technological problem – the core issue is a human one, and it isn’t just limited to sexual harassment, it also overlaps into using social media to pass judgement onto others. “There are just so many horrible human beings out there”, Talitha remarked, “people just feel like they have the right to tell us to be who they want us to be because it’s what they expect us to be, and we get sh*t on when we’re not what they want us to be”.
After hearing all of these stories from people I admired, I began feeling greatly unsettled on their behalf. If these online abusers felt so comfortable launching verbal abuse from the shadows of anonymity, what would stop them from gaining the courage to do so in public? Recently, media outlets in Kuala Lumpur reported harassment arising from organised police roadblocks.
Talitha admitted feeling fearful at times, “I do feel unsafe. As much as I want to be this independent strong woman, I really don’t know what people are capable of”. Ira pointed out that she no longer feels comfortable to post in real time, to avoid being traceable and easily located. “The effect of these messages makes me think about whether I am sharing too much on my account”, she stated, debating taking her profile private. The acts of these Internet bullies were diminishing the social aspect of the media.
Despite the undermining effects that these abuses have created for far too many, I was inspired to hear of the efforts that women were taking to protect each other from these vile and unwarranted aggressors. Ira hasn’t sat back and allowed the online deviants win. Along with her friends at Brand New Waves Running Club, they have taken proactive efforts to combat this unsettling feeling by creating a community environment for women to run within that feels safe. BNW is a collective that meet all over KL and allows individuals to enjoy the thrill of public exercise in a welcoming and encouraging environment – one that many women wouldn’t have engaged with before due to the fear of running alone, unwelcome victims of cat-calling, wolf-whistles and derogatory remarks.
During my time writing this article, I was alarmed at the prevalence of online sexual harassment, not just in general, but alarmingly amongst my own close friendship circle. Too many people were being inappropriately disturbed with messages with zero restraint, and it was concerning to witness its correlation to potential safety fears. I hope that in understanding that it exists, and that it is far from harmless, those on the receiving end will feel comfortable to speak up, and look for help from the social media companies, and indeed the law agencies, in a bid to clamp down and stop the perpetrators. Despite its shocking regularity, we cannot accept that this is ‘normal’, and the first step is to be aware that it is occurring, not allow it to simply exist in the background. As friends, we should offer a support structure to listen to those in need, and attempt to use our social circles to put a stop a very anti-social problem.
Master multi-tasker, Sarah Chua, is the founder of Social Catch Digital Marketing, a boutique social media marketing agency powered by dedicated, hands-on creative minds. The social media marketing strategist’s passion can be seen as she plays the role of creative director, as well as photographer on site, to help others experience the same elation of launching their dream brands.
Despite only being in business for less than two years, Social Catch has elevated a number of lifestyle, fitness and wellness brands with their jazzy visuals and trendy tone of voice – these two elements are at the core of their DNA. Read on to learn more about this inspiring creative entrepreneur: how she started her own agency, grew an impressive network, and still finds time for self-care while running a business.
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What made you want to start your own boutique social agency?
As cliche as it sounds, I always had a passion for photography and putting together moodboards. Since I was a kid, I used to cut out magazines and create collages, and stick them all over my walls. I love the idea of creating visuals that entice people to want to learn more. My favorite part about my job role is building relationships with clients I feel connected with, and becoming a valuable part of each of their unique journeys.
How would you describe the content Social Catch creates?
It definitely is fun, community-oriented, and hopefully scroll-stopping (hehe). I love that we work with clients who allow us to think outside the box and truly explore different ways to express their brands to the public.
What’s been your most exciting campaign so far?
There are too many for me to specifically choose one, but a memorable one would be “The Aloha Bubble” which was program that Clubaloha, a boutique gym in Plaza Damas, had created to virtually connect with their community through daily virtual classes, intention-setting and meaningful content shared on a Telegram channel. This was such a beautiful campaign – we were able to come up with all the visuals for it and witness amazing reviews from all the subscribers. It was really heartwarming to be able to realise how the advantages of technology and digital marketing platforms can benefit us more than we think, especially during these tough times.
In your opinion, what makes for great content?
I don’t call myself an expert in digital marketing or whatsoever! But I do feel that great content is produced when there is good intentions behind it. With the right messaging, the power of whatever that content is can make a difference in people’s daily lives – especially because there is a ton of content rolling out everyday, and it matters.
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Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get a lot of my inspiration from Pinterest! Don’t know what I would do without it, especially when those days come and you’re out of brain juice! I also follow a lot of other established marketing agencies to see how they do it, and hopefully be able to learn a few things from them.
What networking advice do you have for other startup founders and entrepreneurs?
Firstly, always be kind! It costs zero cents to be nice to people and always get to know them how you would want others to get to know you. Also, practice makes perfect, so the more you practice talking to others, the more natural it will be for you. Don’t think too much about how you need to approach someone, just be yourself, be genuine and be kind!
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I am honestly still working on that! I cannot lie that I am not an introvert, I actually did a personality test once and I had scored 99.9% extrovert, haha. But I try my best to set an intention each week and realign my priorities daily. I update my Google Calendar daily, I trust it more than myself to keep on schedule. But, yes, it took me a long time to get where I am today, so I am proud of it!
What are your self-care must-haves?
Hmmm… tough question! But I do think it’s important to have one whole day to myself every week where I treat myself to a good meal, not an expensive meal but a meal that I truly love; explore activities that do not require me to look at my phone too much, and also spend time with people who I care about. 24 hours – just me and a list of things that I should be doing more if I could!
Any last words?
I’d like to thank my team – Samantha, Valery and Michelle, for being superstars and working hard to make my dream job come true!
If you’ve got a vision you’d like to turn into a reality, reach out to Social Catch here and follow them for endless inspiration.
What is digital wellness?
Everyone knows that taking care of your physical health is important, but what about your online life? We’re spending more and more time connected to the internet in some way or the other, from watching Netflix on your smart-tv, tracking your steps with a Fitbit or even sending messages through WhatsApp—seriously when was the last time you sent an SMS or (gasp) made a phone call?
At first glance, digital wellness might seem like something to do with device health—using secured sites, changing passwords frequently, avoiding suspicious downloads and links; you know the drill. But in actuality, it refers to keeping a balance of your mind and sense of self as you navigate the online world.
Why is this important?
It’s no secret that social media can affect your self-esteem. Studies have shown that viewing and engaging in the seemingly perfect lives that your friends and celebrities display, can negatively influence how you view yourself. The way that these social interaction apps are structured to emphasise views and other engagements doesn’t help either, especially when your ‘likes’ can’t stack up to those you follow.
In a similar vein, this may lead to feeling increased stress and anxiety when you don’t seem to measure up. The need to constantly create content to stay relevant—even if it is for a hobby; can take its toll. The same can be said of keeping up with world issues. In such tumultuous times, feelings of guilt and exhaustion at what seems to be a continuous stream of bad news is common and understandable.
What can you do?
Limit the time spent on social media. Yup, this might seem daunting. Try this: instead of mindlessly scrolling through your Twitter or Instagram feeds for hours on end, set yourself a time to check up on things.
Mindfulness—like its name suggests, is being aware in a purposeful way, of your intentions and surroundings. Using its techniques can help your online life in a positive way, for example: cleaning up your feeds. Curating your own experience is important, choosing to unfollow and mute accounts that cause you to feel stress will make your days better.
Self-care isn’t just taking care of yourself physically, but also making sure you’re alright mentally—and in this case; digitally. Don’t feel bad about taking a step back to breathe. By setting boundaries when you use your devices, you’ll be able to develop and maintain a healthier and more fulfilling relationship with social media.
We live in a time where being busy is romanticised – from turning hobbies into side hustles and working out right after the party, there’s an unhealthy pressure to stay on the move. This has made self-care more important than ever, but usually pushed aside as a “buzzword” in another attempt to continue the grind – I mean, who has the time to sit down and meditate these days? Our idea of quiet alone time now consists of scrolling through our phones (unless we’re doing a TikTok dance, but that counts as exercising). So since we’re always on our phones, it makes sense for technology to takeover and help us stay balanced with the use of self-care apps. But what exactly are they? (Isn’t liking a few inspirational quotes on Instagram enough?)
Self-care apps are not a substitute for mental health care, they do not treat clinical conditions, but they do help to focus on improving your overall wellbeing from getting better sleep to breaking bad habits. These apps allow you to check in on yourself, giving you the much needed me-time because even you need undivided attention for yourself. Here are five self-care apps that can help you improve your quality of life – switch out the mindless scrolling for these mindful methods:
- Habits: Fabulous
If you struggle with sticking to healthy habits, hop on Fabulous – an app that helps instil new routines into your life. By providing you with daily reminders, Fabulous will help you track your goals and provide you with the advice needed to build new habits. They also offer their own step-by-step programs, such as routines to make you feel more energised or lose weight.
- Journal: Grateful
Only available on the App Store
An easy introduction to journaling, Grateful helps you start your days with gratitude and end it with self-reflection. You don’t have to worry about what to write because the app provides you with daily prompts. It’s important to check in on yourself, and not just others, so instead of talking to yourself out loud (unless that’s your thang, then keep at it) – you’ll be able to comfortably (and quietly) write to yourself and effectively organise your thoughts.
- Meditate: Headspace
Headspace is the most popular meditation app, once ranked as the highest quality mindfulness app in a study done by the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Internet Research. With the intention to make meditation more acessible, Headspace shares guided meditations and reminders to help build the mindful habit – encouraging everyone to slow down and take a moment to breathe.
- Motivation: Motivate
Only available on the App Store
Get your daily dose of motivation in the form of notifications from Motivate – the app provides empowering quotes in the form of refreshing pop-ups that will make you feel better than seeing who liked your photo. You’ll also be able to browse through their library of motivational videos and playlists for a more powerful impact.
- Sleep: Calm
The top app for sleep, Calm will help you ease your mind after a long, hectic day. The app helps improve your sleep quality, and essentially your quality of life, with the use guided meditations, relaxing stories, breathing exercises, good stretches and soulful music. They promise that when you sleep more – you’ll stress less and live better. Sounds like a deal!
These effective apps have made self-care even more easy and accessible. By downloading them, you’ll be able to slip your personal support system right into your pocket and pull it out whenever you feel overwhelmed – a remedy for stress and anxiety will be just a tap away!
2020 has been problematic, to say the least, and as much as we wish we could cancel it and let the next few months fizzle out with a growing list of celebrities (oop), we’re just going to have to stick out the bad news.
Ah, the news – a chaotic 24-hour cycle you can’t escape. With information being one click away from going viral, social media users have been breaking stories before news outlets and ending up on all your feeds. I mean, Twitter’s become the new morning paper – you think you’re scrolling through fan cams, horoscopes and cute animal videos but each time you close the app, you end up being more informed on current affairs.
It’s this constant media consumption that has taken a toll on our mental health. The news (which only seems to get worse) has become overwhelming, but with the rise of social media activism – we fight these feelings of anxiety, and sometimes even depression, to stay updated and help those in need. But it’s okay to put yourself first.
Don’t feel guilty about taking a moment for yourself – you’re only human and no one should make you feel bad about it. Limit your screen time by setting a reminder to step away. During your break, do a couple of breathing exercises, preferably outdoors – it’s always good to get some fresh air. Talk to someone you trust or hold space for yourself, but if you still feel empty or powerless, please seek professional help, especially if you’ve received online abuse or been triggered.
As stressful as social media has become, it has been a powerful tool in fighting for change. From successful petitions and a plethora of educational posts, the Internet has started powerful movements and brought the world closer together during a pandemic and unrest. Continue keeping up with the news, standing up against injustice, checking in on others, but don’t forget to take care of yourself in the process.