Picture this, a profile with no bio, 7 followers, and a white-grey mandatory pfp, replying to us on a meme that we maybe didn’t enjoy and chose to criticize. Lo and behold, they type us a neat “wow look another SJW lulzz” and offer practically no critical argument. Meet ramesh_720, an average internet user, with a firm purpose of taking offense and typing “lul that’s cringe, my pronouns are dank/lord” and thinks he has made a worldly statement.
Unfortunately, a lot of us have personally interacted with usernames full of weirdly permuted special characters and numbers. We live in a world where data has become cheaper than ever, unrestricted knowledge, and geographical barriers non-existent. Naturally, one might think this is the ultimate artist and activist’s wet dream. Obviously, the countless IT trolling cells and unwarranted cases of cyberbullying would tell you otherwise.
What's Up With Trolls?
The word “troll” originates from Scandinavian children’s folklore representing demon or simply put the bad guy. The cyber version of this is much more complex than this black and white character. It could range right from an army to just a single miserable person, something that gets decided depending upon the popularity and the impact they have on the concerned topic. From being in politics, entertainment business to just plain existing on the internet, it affects each and every one of us. Acts like doxxing, publicly threatening, making derogatory personal comments to even death threats have become fairly common in the internet era.
The internet gives trolls the freedom to say whatever they want without having to face any repercussions for what they said. This is known as the online disinhibition effect, wherein the fact that you are anonymous, invisible, and under no surveillance from state authorities helps you remove all the basic social rules you would have stuck to in the real world. Maybe you wouldn’t have told someone who asked you how they’re looking, “You look like a truck hit you in the face Susan”. But on the internet, you will, because you can.
However, it doesn’t just end at being called ugly, it can move to hate speech, violent threats, leaking your personal information like address, phone number which is called doxxing. Trolling can turn into a bigger life-threatening monster really soon. Research shows that men are more likely to troll than women. This is considered to an extent a result of gender stereotypes because of which men are required to be more aggressive, dominant, and competitive. Since society also encourages these characteristics in men, their behavior online reflects some part of their social conditioning.
The Pandemic Is A Troll's Dreamland
The pandemic has made trolling more intense. With COVID norms and limited access to the outdoors, the line between real and virtual seems to have blurred. The virtual has become the new normal and this is a golden opportunity for trolls. Dr. Kent Bausman, a professor in the Online Sociology program at Maryville University says that the pandemic has formed a collective negative mood with massive unemployment, lack of public interaction, and fear of getting infected which forms the perfect brew for turning into a troll. Dr. Kent says,
“It is a grotesquely cathartic individual-level response to the negative feelings produced by an event(s). I say grotesquely in that relief or pleasure is gained by victimizing and harassing another for their difference in opinion or feeling".
A collective response to a life-threatening global situation can be turning to hurt others for gaining pleasure. This brings us to the understanding that anyone can be or turn into a troll. This anti-social behavior seems to be lurking in the shadows waiting for us to look at it and welcome it in. Remember that time someone’s comment made you really angry or you came across something that made you want to give another person on the internet a piece of your mind? Maybe you typed it all in, the words you had in your mind but then you stopped yourself and decided not to go forward with it. That’s the time that you almost welcomed the monster in.
Trolling For Minorities Is A Whole New Hell
Trolling can be even more horrific for minorities on the Internet. Kiruba Munusamy, a Dalit Supreme Court lawyer said that trolls often comment on her in relation to her caste.
“My color is commented upon. I am called burnt. Connections are made between my sense of dressing and my caste. In addition, when you are a Dalit, a woman, and dark in color, many do not even come forward to raise their voices for you like they would have if you didn’t belong to a marginalized community. The response of officials is no different.”
People from the LGBTQ+ community are also severely trolled. Trolling on marginalized groups gets excessively violent and because the majority does not support their rights or is just not interested, they are often left to fend for themselves. What’s bizarre is how social media platforms often do not take down comments of trolls saying they ‘do not violate community guidelines. The trolling has become so commonplace that the only accessible tool left to deal with it is reporting accounts of trolls but the nasty double standards of social media platforms when it comes to women and minorities disable this option.
When Indians Get To Trolling
India particularly is a nasty world of trolling. Women who speak out against numerous societal injustices are favorites of trollers. Despite the Constitution providing substantial protection against gendered harassment, no political establishment in India has been particularly nice to vocal women. Islamophobia has guided trolls to accounts such as those of journalist Rana Ayyub who is a fierce anti-establishment voice in the country. Rape threats, death threats to her and her family, Rana has seen it all through the years. Trolls under the current rule seem to find themselves committed to making the Hindu-Muslim divide deeper.
An upper-caste Brahmanical voice can be found in trolls which put women in the good woman and bad-woman binaries. Anything that doesn’t fit the good-woman checklist is easily villainized and dragged through social media. In a country where rape and harassment of women are commonplace, social media trolls leave no opportunity to recreate the same atmosphere. Sometimes there is no difference between being a woman walking on the streets of India and a woman on the internet. Some Ramesh_720 doesn’t know anything about you but he can find just enough to make you feel really uncomfortable, without even having to ever see or interact with you.
Trolling in the new world’s political atmosphere is a great political weapon as well. BJP IT Cell does a great job at this along with IT Cells of several other political parties. From using bot accounts to send out a massive 8 lakh tweets over 8 years to coming together as several troll accounts, trolling has reached a whole new level. Swati Chaturvedi the author of the book ‘I Am A Troll: Inside The Secret World Of BJP’s Digital Army’ says
"In India trolling is an organized political activity and trolls are the Twitter equivalent of a communally-charged mob out to burn down somebody’s home (or village) as part of a pogrom.”
Planned and organized trolling attacks are unleashed on journalists, activists, and anyone who is disliked by the great saffron lotus. What could have been used by people to freely express their thoughts has now become a self-censoring platform. We don’t want to get into trouble for our opinions these days, in fact, opinions are no more ‘personal’ and leave the trolls to convince you that you are a national threat. You might just wake up on a nice Sunday morning, get yourself a cup of chai, and log into your phone to find out the trolls have gotten to you. Welcome to your biggest internet nightmare.