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The Tales Of Trollum, A Dangerous Social Media Vigilante

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If you’ve spent any time online or on social media, you’ve come across a social media vigilante. It’s that friend who complained about her Uber driver in a Facebook post, that uncle who sent you a WhatsApp forward about seeing rats at a fast food outlet or that neighbour who tweeted about a suspicious man lurking outside the gate of your co-op. Now that everyone has a smartphone and an internet connection, they think they can pass judgement on anyone who they feel has wronged them. And considering all the personal information available online – especially our locations – doling out the punishment without involving the authorities would not be that difficult.

What follows are the misadventures of Trollum (a.k.a. social media vigilantes) and how they can be a danger.

Trollum And The Big Red Panic Button

One of the biggest problems with vigilantism on social media is how easy it is to actually do it. Just pick up your phone and accuse away. Proof? Who needs that? All you need is enough prejudiced suspicion. Trollum sees a criminal stereotype, assumes it is, in fact, a criminal and hits the big red panic button. That’s what happened to Eoin McKeogh. A video intended to expose two men evading cab fare was posted on social media, where one man called the other ‘Eoin’. The video went viral and someone commented that Eion McKeogh as the Eion in the video. Overnight, Eion McKeogh became infamous, accused of being a ‘scumbag’ and a ‘thief’. Once the matter actually went to court, Eoin presented his passport to prove he was in Japan when the video was taken. On a much bigger scale, Steven Rudderham was accused of being a paedophile by someone on Facebook. The backlash was so severe that Rudderham committed suicide due to all the threats and accusations. In 2017, an apparent shooting on Oxford Street in London went viral on social media. People rushed to escape the area, causing injuries in the ensuing stampede. When these ‘too quick to accuse’ trolls don’t consider evidence while making the accusations, their victim’s reputations are hurt, whether they are guilty or not. If you asked Eion McKeogh, Steven Rudderham’s family or all those people on Oxford Street that day, they would say this form of social media vigilantism can be very very dangerous.

Trollum And The Corporate Take-Down

Social media’s wide reach and accessibility have caused a paradigm shift in the service, food and hospitality industries. Remember those feedback form you get after a meal? Well, who needs those when you can rant about bad service in 280 characters on Twitter. While this makes reviewing easier for customers to avail better service from industries who want to maintain their reputation and business, it also brings corporations and retail employees at the mercy of customers. Kind of like when Snapchat’s stocks were affected by Kylie Jenner denounced its new update or when Wendy’s found itself on the wrong side of the #MeToo movement.  In 2015, a study found that 50% of the surveyed organisations were unfairly targetted by online trolls and about 1 in 5 organisations spent at least 30,000 pounds/year to put right the malicious online criticism against them. Thanks to the extreme PC on the internet, a lot of these takedowns have to do with misunderstood ad campaigns. When cosmetic company Lush launched a campaign to support a documentary about obesity, it was accused of fat shaming. What ensued in their comments section speaks for itself.

Trollum And The Criminals That Weren’t

Social media has definitely aided in nabbing criminals. However, there have been instances when good intentioned fingers were pointed at the innocent. The most prominent example is that of Sunil Tripathi. Tripathi was a Brown University student who went missing a month before the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013. Based on hazy conjecture and shoddy guesswork, some people raised suspicions that the timing of this might mean that he was the Boston bomber. The resulting social media trial resulted in regular attacks and death threats against the Tripathi family until the real bombers were caught and it was found that Sunil was missing because he had committed suicide. In Jharkhand, WhatsApp messages about ‘child-lifters’ created panic among tribal groups. This panic eventually culminated in the lynching of four men on the suspicion that were child-lifters. It was later found that the messages contained false information.

Trollum And The Bait Hook

Trollum really enjoys calling out celebrities for straying too far away from their ‘pretty and polished’ jobs and actually having an opinion. They hope they’ll get worldwide attention and if people agree with them, they’ll get validation too. But that’s not what really happens. Most times, they end up baiting other users into joining in on the attack causing a social media hurricane for the celebrity.

One of the most famous examples is when Milo Yiannopoulos turned Twitter users against Ghostbusters star, Leslie Jones, resulting in vicious racist attacks against her. Things got so bad that Twitter has now banned Milo Yiannopoulos from their platform for life and Leslie Jones had to take some break from Twitter. Zelda Williams, daughter of actor Robin Williams, was mocked for her father’s suicide, people even put up pictures of Robin William’s head edited on a dead body with marks around its neck. Alia Bhatt was mercilessly trolled for not knowing who the Prime Minister of India was on the show “Koffee with Karan”. When Neha Dhupia tweeted about good governance and safety, she was criticised for daring to have an opinion, even given threats and abuses. Celebrities can become important leaders of change due to their widespread influence, shutting them and their opinions down on social media with a ‘you should just focus on looking pretty’ attitude has become common, but can be very dangerous.

Trollum And The Game Of Shame

Social media vigilantes love to shame people who they deem to be wrong. ‘Politically correcting’ public opinion is the social media vigilante’s way of bettering the world, one tweet at a time. And the way they like to do this is by shaming people into submission. However, many times, this turning deadly. When some anti-abortion activists released a ‘hit list’ with information about abortion providers, it led to eight murders. A girl from Korea was shamed on the internet when she didn’t pick up her dog’s poop from the sidewalk. Was she wrong? Yes, but she didn’t deserve the public shaming that came after. Similarly, Justine Sacco tweeted racist humour while boarding a flight to South Africa. By the time she reached, she had been fired and become the world’s most hated person of the day.

Trollum And The Spam Gang

When social media vigilantes are also technologically competent, they launch high scale DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service attacks) against their targets. They not only pose a problem for normal civilians but governments too. Groups like the Lizard Squad and Anonymous are prime examples of this. A DDoS attack is when a website is flooded with so much internet traffic that it’s knocked offline. Lizard Squad has claimed to launch the attacks against Pokemon Go servers as well as the Xbox servers apparently so that children could spend time with their family instead of electronics. They also created a service through which a person could launch DDoS attacks on victims with a set amount monthly. Anonymous is a decentralised hacktivist group with the aim of delivering social justice through cyber-attacks. It has hacked into ISIS’ social media and taken down their websites. It has taken down child-abuse websites. While most of these sound positive, the methods of execution can be questionable, especially since it operates outside the law. The vigilante group LetzGo Hunting poses as vulnerable children online in an attempt to catch and punish paedophiles. One such person was Gary Cleary, who committed suicide after he was targeted by LetzGo Hunting, even though the police had not charged him with any crime.

Trollum is clearly getting bigger, nastier and stronger by the day. Many Indian cyber law experts have suggested amendments to India’s IT law so that these social media vigilantes can be brought within the jurisdiction of the law and dealt with appropriately. But just like cases of sexual harassment, cases of cyber harassment are grossly under-reported. So netizens, if you’re a victim of an online crime, reporting it to the authorities is the best way to only get justice for yourself but also to ensure that IT laws in India are updated to prevent these crimes from happening again.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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