From spreading fake news to turning social networks into echo chambers, trolls can wreak havoc. Here’s how you deal with them.
If all of social media is a playground, the troll is the school bully waiting to cause havoc for the rest of the participants. Recently, a Reddit post trained its guns on Rohan Joshi of AIB, before the comedian called the post out, and the author rescinded and deleted it, while a post on the Medium blog site accused social media personality Sahil Rizwan of sexual harassment. As of writing this, the piece is still online, having been allegedly written by ‘Indian Fowler’.
With Joshi’s accuser retracting his/her claim, the focus has firmly shifted to the narrative, disrupting online troll, who seems to build on a burning topic to write about, often making whimsical claims sound plausible. “The whole point of a troll is to disrupt any sane debate. They exist for that reason,” asserts Swati Chaturvedi, the author of I Am A Troll, who believes social media has become a spectator sport, especially in India. “People seem to forget there are actual human beings, who are being targeted or talked about. Somebody picks a side, and all limits are crossed. It’s awful what’s happening right now.”
For city comedian Kunal Kamra, who put up a video of himself talking about patriotism, things boiled over when the barrage of abuse turned into threats earlier this week. “If you’re getting any sort of bullying or difference of opinion, like being called out for your content, that’s feedback. Even if you use expletives when disagreeing, I don’t have a problem with it,” he sighs. “But I draw the line at threats. Telling someone ‘If you come to Delhi for a show, we’ll see you at the airport and see who a true patriot is’ isn’t friendly banter; it’s a threat.”
Senior IPS officer and IT specialist Brijesh Singh, IG (Cyber) explains that while everyone has recourse to civil procedures for defamation, in cases of abuse online, it’s alternatively and in addition to a criminal procedure. “There are a few recourses in these cases: file an FIR and the police will investigate. However, there’s also the report abuse buttons on social media sites. According to their policies, they take the content down. Certain sites like Facebook also have a provision where it require a certain number of people complaining about things like social issues, or relationships between two countries or communities. Similarly, all kind of social media have programmes to responsibly remove content that offends someone.”
The problem, however, explains cyber expert Vijay Mukhi, is that abusive content on social network is not consistently taken down at the request of an individual, and sometimes not even at the request of the police. “In theory, there’s a lot you can do,” says Vijay. “If you file an FIR, the police will write to, say, Facebook, for instance. If the service is in a good mood, it will remove the post. Beyond that, it won’t provide IP addresses to track perpetrators down.”
Both Vijay and Swati are of the belief that anonymity, in certain cases, is a double-edged sword. “It’s like a knife that can kill in the hands of a butcher and save lives in the hands of a surgeon,” smiles Vijay. “But I do feel that the guys breaking the law are actually getting away with it. Take the Gurmehar Kaur case for example. She was threatened with rape and murder, but no one is in jail for it.”
For Swati, the epidemic of fake news and pushing of agendas is only evolving from one site to the other, with trolls taking charge. “The only way to counter them is with facts, and unfortunately the problem is that most of social media is like an echo chamber. Your biases keep getting reinforced, and with the huge rise in plausible fake news, people need to understand that they need to get their primary information from a verifiable source. Don’t depend on WhatsApp forwards and Facebook posts. Frankly there’s no editorial filter there and no one’s taking the onus to verify these articles and posts. It’s somebody’s bias and plants coming through,” she warns.