Sometimes, it is good to wait for a storm to pass by. The wait gives one ample time to deliberate on an issue from all sides. One recent storm on social media was tweets made by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. The two time Oscar winner, has once again found herself in the spotlight and this time it has created quite some controversy. For those living under a rock, Ms. Chinoy accused a doctor of harassment because he sent her sister a friend request on Facebook. Following her tweet, the doctor has been dismissed from Agha Khan Hospital. As she pointed out in her tweet, he messed with ‘the wrong person in the wrong family’.

Let’s discuss this controversy in the lights of the available facts and try to ascertain whether this act can be labelled “harassment”. Black’s law dictionary describes harassment as “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress in such person and serves no legitimate purpose” or “words, gestures, and actions which tend to annoy, alarm and abuse (verbally) another person.” Thus, taking Ms. Chinoy’s viewpoint, it would seem that (i) the friend request caused ‘substantial’ emotional distress to her sister (a fact that casts serious doubts on her own emotional state) and / or (ii) sending a friend request on Facebook is an action which ‘tends to annoy, alarm and abuse the recipient (which makes me wonder whether all the friend requests we have sent over the years make us criminal-minded sociopaths).

Now, some facts about Facebook; which all users of the social networking site know. You cannot add a person to your friends on the site unless you send a request and it is accepted by the recipient. It would make the whole business very cumbersome and uncomfortable if one were required to ask the permission of a person before sending him/her a friend request. And what’s there to stop the recipient from labelling the request for permission to send a request as harassment too? The question that begs to be posited is; what was the doctor supposed to do? Judging from Ms. Chinoy’s comments, it also appears that there are certain conditions to be met by the person and his/her family before you send a request, but it is not clear who are the right people and the right families in this respect.

Ms. Chinoy and her sister should also be aware that there are specific privacy settings that prevent anyone from sending them any friend requests or from seeing their posts. However, this would raise the question of why she is using Facebook in the first place if no one is allowed to send her a friend request. Maybe there’s a certain charm and intellectual satisfaction in being a member of a social networking site without a social network. We are compelled to assume that is not the case. She could have even blocked the person so that he could not harass her again by asking to be a friend. But maybe that would have been the case if Ms. Chinoy belonged to the ‘right family’ and her sister was the ‘right person’ which, as claimed in her tweet, is not the case.

She also explained that the doctor has “liked” few posts of her sister. Now, let’s see what this means. The posts were obviously public, so she intended everyone to see them. So, what’s the issue? Does the fact that the poor doctor ‘liked’ these posts show that he is some sociopath? Is she trying to say that no normal, decent person could have liked those posts? Seriously, how bad were they?

Furthermore, Ms. Chinoy is of the view that the doctor’s conduct was unethical and has breached the code of medical ethics. Come on now! Let’s cut the poor guy some slack. She is the sister of the woman who has won two Oscar awards, that is a big deal. Isn’t it normal for someone to want to include the sister of such a celebrity in his Facebook circle? What if a woman sent a similar request to Tom Hanks’ brother? Would this construe as harassment?

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy is the pride of Pakistan, but this notable feat comes with a string of responsibilities she needs to remain mindful of. Firstly, that in today’s digital age, sending a friend request on Facebook is normal and she need not act like a prima donna about it. Secondly, the doctor, who is a father of four, has a family too. She needs to understand the emotional trauma, and consequent societal repercussions, her words must have unleashed on his family. Thirdly, the privilege she enjoys because of being such a huge celebrity gives her immense power of influencing people’s opinion, but with great power comes great responsibility. Ms. Chinoy’s reaction was not only unwarranted but also laced with thorough disregard of the consequences that her move entailed. It would be unfitting for a woman of such high intellectual caliber to go about wantonly trivializing the issue of harassment.

In short, let’s hope she realizes that her reaction was knee-jerk and there is nothing wrong in admitting that she overshot the mark, that she said things without really thinking them through, that she is woman enough to accept her mistake and rectify the mess. Let’s hope she is the right woman from the right family.