OPINION | ‘Faceless’ masked protesters operate the same way as internet trolls

EFF members danced and sang protest songs outside the Clicks store in the Mall of Africa while wearing masks.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/The Sunday Times

Internet trolls, aka cyber bullies, are free. Too free, and that is what makes them dangerous.

They are free to be rude, hurtful and destructive without consequences because they are faceless. Thanks to Covid-19 and the compulsory mask regulations in Mzansi, this “facelessness” is a reality we have to live with, and just like on the internet streets, it represents a real danger to society.

The EFF’s countrywide protests at Clicks stores this week were an example of how dangerous “facelessness” can be.

TimesLIVE reported on the EFF leading nationwide protests aimed at shutting stores run by the beauty and health retailer after an advert deemed demeaning to black hair went viral.

One of the first reactions I saw on social media when it dawned on the world that wearing masks is going to be part of their daily routines was people wondering how easy it would be to “rob a bank or something”.

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that some of the protesters — who were apparently infused with criminals and looters who buried themselves within the groups — were brave enough to go all out in their criminal activities in the name of protesting against racism. From arson to looting,  the Clicks protests have proved  faceless protesters are a nightmare.

However, it’s not just the facelessness that adds to the danger element around masks — it’s the illusion that seems to accompany wearing the mask.

For some reason people put on their mask in the same way Superman acts the minute his cape comes on. They wear the mask like an alter ego.

Have you realised how more people talk back to you randomly at the grocery store, as if the mask will protect them if you decide to slap them silly?

I can’t be the only one who has had such experiences while standing in the queue at a supermarket and a random guy insists on breaking social distancing rules to tell me how pretty I am, as if he can see my face.

Then there’s also the comfort of “hiding” when you are wearing a mask.

For example, masks have made it incredibly easy for women to rock their no-make up faces in public. Women who, back in 2019, wouldn’t be caught dead in a restaurant without make-up are doing so. Men who haven’t been seen without beards or with beards in years are now cutting or growing them because if it turns out they are “ugly”, they can put on a mask in public until they get back to the version of themselves they used to be.

Perhaps it all boils down to identity.

Ironically, masks serve to unmask us as who we really are when there’s no audience. It essentially gets rid of the “abantu bazothini syndrome” so many people suffer from.

Here’s the thing. People will have nothing to say if they don’t know it was you who looted a Clicks store in the name of protesting against racism. People will say nothing if they don’t know it was you and your inner pervert who inappropriately touched a woman at a groove because she can’t see your face.

The way robbers wear masks so they don’t face the consequences of their actions is the same principle the cyber troll uses when attacking people on the internet. Unfortunately, it seems the same principle is being applied  by certain people when they put on a mask.

By Chrizelda Kekana

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