By Shamim Zakaria:
On social media, you cannot keep getting likes for your comments and opinions. Internet trolling is something that comes as an added agony. Livia Veselka and Philip A. Vernon in The Dark Triad of Personality have defined online trolling as, “the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose.” Further, “from a lay perspective, Internet trolls share many characteristics of the classic Joker villain: a modern variant of the Trickster archetype from ancient folklore.”
Speaking from a journalistic perspective, trolls also have long-term effects on journalists, who find it dispiriting to have their work constantly criticised. Even virulent personal attacks on writers are quite common. Well known names of Indian journalism including the likes of Rana Ayyub, Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai among others have always been the favorites of troll ‘army’. Georgina Henry, editor of The Guardian’s Comment Is Free, has also expressed her sheer dislike of abusive comments from trolls on a regular basis.
Apparently most of the political parties in India are believed to run orchestrated online campaigns to get things trending. However, the politicians cannot themselves escape from being bullied online.
Online anonymity is the greatest advantage for trolls and works as a magnet for them. Their sole purpose is to disrupt and annoy, therefore, they are mostly left ignored.
Speaking from my personal experience as an ardent internet user and being vocal on various issues, I too am hurled with abuses by the trolls, which I mostly prefer to ignore. But, I do keep a check on the comments on my Facebook page. One reason is that it is used widely does not have a word limit for posts, and the second is that most of my family members are Facebook users as well and I tend to filter audience comments which are abusive, vulgar or demeaning.
I have been opining a lot on the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) fiasco, condemning the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) political witch hunting of students, branding dissenting voices as ‘anti-national’ and their attempt to curb freedom of speech and expression.
The saga was the same as always – there were civilised rebuttals that are always welcome and there were comments with cuss words which I filtered. However, I was taken aback when I got a comment from the co-founder of a popular online portal. His manner qualified him as a troll. Sprinkled with abuses, his comments took the stance that Indians living abroad have no right to opine on national issues, which is similar to most of India’s right-wing fanatics. While there wasn’t any substance to his argument, his rebuttal hovered around phrases like ‘sipping English tea’ and ‘residing in the United Kingdom’.
I took a screenshot and made public one of his comments to which he made a few more abusive comments. But he deleted them quickly. I saw that he had posted screenshots of my posts and my previous blog posts on his timeline supplemented by his defaming opinions. These too were taken down within a few hours. Though he pretended that he was not breaching my privacy by blurring my photograph and name, the title of my write-ups being visible, one could easily search for the writings online and find out who I was.
My blogs already being available on a public forum, his actions did not bother me much. But what is worrisome is that a person heading a portal with over one million likes abides by such an ideology. I would have ignored him but the reason for making it public is that his website is highly popular among the 18-30 age group. It could be used to influence people with false propaganda very easily. He was indeed using his portal to disseminate his views on the JNU incident. He feels that all those expressing solidarity with JNU should be slapped after applying a lubricant on their cheeks!
I am told that this fellow is in the habit of hurling online abuses. He had previously sent similar abusive messages to the founder of one of his competitor portals.
Trolls may be blatantly offensive in order to get their point across or may seek to lure others into useless circular discussions. Thus, we often tend to ignore such things happening online. But sometimes, they need to be checked. As Amy Binns elicits in her paper Don’t Feed The Trolls, “…Allowing amoral, narcissistic behaviour online may also have dangerous consequences for the individual offline.”
What trolls appear to be seeking is the construction of an identity or wishing to be part of the ‘group’. But the dangerous thing is that they often they do it merely to cause disruption for their own amusement. They try to influence discussions negatively. Anonymity leads to what Binns calls “toxic disinhibition” which is “characterised by rude language, harsh criticisms, anger [and] hatred.” This particular troll did not even need that.