Designer Masaba Gupta Mantena was only lauding a decision that the Supreme Court – the highest court of justice in the country – had already made when trolls targeted her.
On October 9, the court had banned the sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR region to curb the alarming pollution level in the area. While many people including celebrities criticised the apex court’s move, many also came forward in its support, including Mantena. For expressing her opinion supporting the ban on sale of firecrackers, the trolls called her ‘illegitimate West Indian’ and ‘bastard child’ and her descent was questioned.
Threatening would be a crime offline or online. We can handle that by reporting that to the police. But the police often don’t make us feel comfortable enough for reporting each crime, and understanding how this hate works can perhaps offer us a clue to preventing it from happening.
Mantena, for example, didn’t go to the police. Instead she responded with the following post.
What is annoying when we see the trolls pitted against the designer is that people seemed to have forgotten the difference between the private and the public. It was a simple case of a public figure putting forth an opinion in a public space regarding an issue that concerns the public at large. But the public here decided to intrude into her personal space, dig out personal issues that are not in any way related to the issue being dealt with, and troll her online.
Sadly, Mantena’s case this isn’t the first time a person has been trolled for an opinion they have expressed. On earlier occasions, Suchitra Krishnamoorthy was trolled for her tweet against azaan, Sona Mohapatra was trolled by Salman Khan’s fans for her opinion against his rape remark, Gurmehar Kaur for saying, “Pakistan did not kill my dad, war did”. This hatred has, in fact, become so common that the stories of many people who face it aren’t considered newsworthy.
“People find pleasure in intruding other people’s personal spaces. These are the people who have difficulty with their self-esteem and have low self- esteem,” Psychologist Priyanka Behrani from Vadodara told me. People fail to accept dissenting opinion or the fame a person has and resort to scornful comments or trolls, she added.
Online haters don’t just ridicule the opinion being put forth. Instead, they take the liberty to try and ridicule your school of thought or your very existence if your opinions differ from theirs.This has often been attributed to sadistic and narcissistic pleasures. Tomas Chamarro-Premuzic, professor of Business psychology in an article for The Guardian writes, “Trolls are more likely to display noxious personality characteristics, that is, traits that impair one’s ability to build relations and function in a civilised or pro-social way”. He further calls trolls, ‘prototypical everyday sadist’.
He also calls trolling a ‘narcissistic tool’ to feel important in the online space, a status not available to everybody in the real world. Supporting this is the Social Identity Model of De-Individuation (SIDE) which states that anonymity in a crowd affects the behaviour and actions of an individual. A crowded platform like social media makes a person speak up, for a good or bad cause, because anonymity makes them feel safe.
“Online people feel anonymous and disinhibited. They lower their emotional guard and in the heat of the moment may troll either reactively or proactively,” says Prof Mark Griffiths, director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University.
Despite social networking sites coming up with their options to report such people, online hate continues to exist. According to a Pew Survey, 73% of adult internet users have seen someone being harassed online, while 40% have experienced it themselves. In yet another study on Indian Internet users by Norton, eight out of ten people surveyed said they had experienced online harassment, 63% of which was through abuses and insults.
We know the usual spectrum of responses. The author of a post either decides to pull their post down, remains silent, or silences the trolls. Like Mantena, Chaity Bhatt, a student of Economics at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, for instance, silenced her troll. She had written a post following the #MeToo campaign to which the person commented, “Well, I haven’t fucked you”. He was criticised for his comments by Bhatt’s friend. “I want him to know what people think of him after this hideous act,” she told me. She would unfriend him in sometime in case he didn’t do it ‘out of shame.’ In the current scenario, perhaps this is the only resort, especially for those who don’t have access to the police, to ensuring that social media remains the democratic space that it once was.