'It’s totally not OK': 'Never Have I Ever' star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan takes strong stance against online harassment
Earlier this year, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan was best known as Devi Vishwakumar in Mindy Kaling's Netflix series Never Have I Ever. Now, the 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ontario, uses her platform to raise awareness of girls' rights and gender equality as Plan International Canada's newest Global Celebrated Ambassador.
Ramakrishnan told Yahoo Canada that her first memory of Plan International Canada is seeing agents in malls, and she was especially impressed when she first learned about child marriage through the company's intelligence work at the age of 10.
"I was really surprised as a 10-year-old because I didn't know this was a thing for girls the same age as me at the time," she said. "I always wanted to learn about these things that are going on in the world outside of what I would know as a 10-year-old and see what happens to other people."
Ramakrishnan is very open to the fact that her relatively newly developed public image and booming presence on social media will help raise awareness of issues among women and girls around the world.
"I have a lot of friends who, if they had the platform I have, would be just as vocal," she said. "It's a privilege to have such a large following ... so with that privilege comes responsibility."
"If I can use this privilege forever, I will."
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 25: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan attends the Netflix 'I'm Not Okay With This' photocall in London's West Hollywood on February 25, 2020 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi / WireImage)
62% of Canadian girls experience harassment or abuse online
Plan International Canada's latest campaign focuses on harassment of girls online. A global survey conducted by the organization of 14,000 girls aged 15 to 25 in 22 countries found that 58 percent of respondents were harassed or abused online. The statistics in Canada are even higher at 62 percent.
"We have now normalized online harassment, which is completely wrong," said Ramakrishnan. "We have normalized this idea that you only have to deal with the fact that you are being harassed when you are out there."
The study found that girls who use social media are routinely exposed to explicit messages, pornographic photos, cyberstalking, and other forms of abuse.
Of Canadian girls surveyed, 19 percent said they "stopped posting content that expresses their opinion" in order to cope with the online harassment they face. A total of 48 percent of the girls surveyed said they would ignore the harassment, while 37 percent would report or block the harasser or tighten their privacy settings.
The organization emphasizes that the current reporting options offered on social media platforms “do not do enough to prevent online harassment and abuse” and urges these companies to develop a more robust and accessible reporting mechanism. Plan International Canada drew up an open letter to social media companies in the lead up to International Girls' Day on October 11th to do more to end the online harassment.
"We want these social media platforms to take it seriously," said Ramakrishnan. "All of these major social media outlets are making sure that if someone reports an incident online, instead of that report button being a fake that it doesn't really help or do anything with, they take responsibility."
She added that people also need to take responsibility for not contributing to the idea of normalizing online harassment.
"Make sure you realize and recognize that this is wrong and that you can get upset about online harassment. You don't have to just say," Oh, it's okay, it's okay, everyone understands "Ramakrishnan said." It's absolutely not okay. "
NEVER HAVE I (L to R) LEE RODRIGUEZ as FABIOLA TORRES, RAMONA YOUNG as ELEANOR WONG and MAITREYI RAMAKRISHNAN as DEVI VISHWAKUMAR in episode 101 of NEVER HAVE I NEVER Cr. LARA SOLANKI / NETFLIX © 2020
What's next for Devi on Never Have I Ever?
While Never Have I Ever fans eagerly await the show's second season on Netflix, the show's star certainly has some hopes for Devi's future.
Though the love triangle between Devi, Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison) and Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet) ended the season, Ramakrishnan would like Devi's family to possibly learn to "love themselves".
"I just want her to learn to love herself because if this journey of true self-love could be shown on screen it would be really nice and resonate with a lot of people," she said. "Not many people love themselves so I think this would be a really good trip Devi could go through and people watch."
Initially, Never Have I Ever was praised for its diverse cast, starring Tamil-Canadian actor Ramakrishnan, but she recognizes that it's the complexity and unique, individual storylines of each of the characters in the series that it resonates with so many people.
"There really is someone for everyone on the show, so I think it's not just a show for [young adults], it's really a show for everyone," said Ramakrishnan.
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