When was the last time you wrote something on the internet and were not worried about extreme backlash?
As a 21-year-old, I had witnessed a lot of public figures being mercilessly trolled online – their personal lives not being spared even if their views made a lot of sense. Most of the people commenting online had anonymous IDs with names like ‘Meme Maker’ – and half of them were in their early teens.
A hoard of comments spewing the worst kind of hate and excessive mudslinging are so common that we’re told to brush them under the rug. Everything else that happens online is a small byline, with ‘troll culture’ almost always running in the background.
What makes troll culture di rigueur?
I never expected to find myself at the receiving end, but the internet spares nobody. When I wrote a piece on the rise of vigilantism, I was given open lynching and rape threats along with pithy molestation jokes. My male supporters were called “Islamic pornstars”, my family was labelled Pakistani, and so on.
Most of this online hate arises when we wear our opinions out in the open. The times being what they are, most people prefer the safe comfort of silence instead. But I believe the biggest crime is to just sit on the fence while your country burns. Being a literature student, I know extremely well that ‘sermons are stones’ too (as Nadine Gordimer says) – and that the ‘word’ is a powerful but extremely dangerous weapon in our possession!
When we decide to speak and question the existing hollow ideologies, their roots shake, and it is this fear that the believers and defenders of such dogmas try to mask by outright violence. Behind troll culture lies the easy cloak of anonymity and the immense fear of being ideologically challenged.
What happens when a normal person is trolled or threatened online? In a candid conversation with eminent psychologists, I found out that online vitriol is not as innocuous as it seems. This issue, which is largely ignored, is responsible for major anxiety attacks and can augment manic anxiety. It further breaks down self esteem, and adds to depression in a country with the largest unresolved (and mostly undiagnosed) cases of depression.
Social media makes up for a lot of our daily routines, and is an inevitable part of life. Not only is it an active tool for speaking out, it also helps activists and academicians spread their debates and discussions. While a healthy debate is something that adds to the synthesis of opinion, death and rape threats (aimed mostly at outspoken women) must absolutely be called out!
I also remember seeing a morphed image of a fellow female activist, and the comments on her post gravely denounced the vitriol as gender directed. We currently run a 95-5 rate for online trolling that amounts to cyber harassment. To say that oppression or trolling comes free of the yoke of patriarchy that’s seeped deep into our bloodstreams, would be a blatant lie. As oppressive structures, trolling and patriarchy have indeed joined hands – for they must!
Furthermore, what happens when women report such incidents? I had reported a number of detractors, who had issued open lynching threats, to the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW). However, more than two weeks passed without any correspondence.
After talking to a lot of women, I found out that there are so many reports with the cyber cell that it pushes back or negates the possibility of any fast action. Consequently, you have to wait – or worse, just let go of the case. This is where the issue comes full circle – when we’re forced to give up due to a lack of necessary action, and needless to say, this fuels the detractors.
What can we do to deal with this ‘epidemic’ better?
A woman called Saneya Siddique reached out to me on Facebook right after a live session on Quint. We brainstormed about not letting this menace pass easily. Our conversation expanded – and in no time, a group of student activists from across the country came together.
On July 30, 2017, a peaceful protest called “Stop Online Mobs” will be staged in Delhi from 12 PM to 5PM. The event will address the vitriol that is being spewed against people and the open rape and lynching threats which are given out from behind the screen, whenever we speak our mind. Moreover, through a petition to the government, we aim to appeal for the fast-tracking of cyber complaints and a penalty on death/rape threats given online, which may take an ugly shape in real life. After all, like most cases of violence, these also start from an ugly online argument, which could not be curtailed.
The movement is currently being supported by stalwarts like Shashi Tharoor, Shehzad Poonawalla, R Madhavan and Kavita Krishnan. We aim to make this movement a nationwide one, and to highlight this issue better!
Why should you end your silence on troll culture immediately? If you take this lying down and silently, while someone else is facing the brunt of it, you are empowering the perpetrators to come for you. Your silence is complicit in their violence!
You can find more about the event here.