“Hair dressing is not a barber’s religion but his business. Mending or making shoes is not a cobbler’s religion but his business. Similarly, performing prayers and other rituals is not a Brahamin’s religion but his business...Mahatma Phule”.
These are the famous lines of one of India’s most famous social reformists and thinker Jyotirao Phule, who throughout his life fought for social equality. Remembering Phule, one Frank Huzur posted this as his facebook status on March 30 this year. The editor of Socialist Factor magazine and author of a famous book on Pakistan’s cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan (Imran vs Imran) and another on Uttar Pradesh’s CM Akhilesh Yadav (Tipu Story), got a life threat in the comment box from a
person from Allahabad. He openly abused and threatened him of life.
Anuradha Beniwal – a former national chess player from Rohtak, Haryana and author of Aazadi mera brand, now settled in London, working as a chess trainer and highly active on social media, posted a video urging her Jat agitators to calm down and think over what damage they had already caused to the state of Haryana in the name of seeking reservation last month. The video went viral on social media and other media platforms. But if one went down scrolling the comment box, she was brutally attacked. People hurled abuses, commented on her sexuality, mudslinging on personal life, called her traitor and so on.
A day after beating Pakistan in the last month’s World T20, Indian cricketer Virat Kohli’s Instagram and Twitter account had this message for the ‘so-called’ trolls: “Shame on those people who have been having a go at Anushka for the longest time and connecting every negative thing to her. Shame on those people calling themselves educated. Shame on blaming and making fun of her when she has no control over what I do with my sport. If anything she has only motivated and given me more positivity. This was long time coming. Shame on these people that hide and take a dig. And I don't need any respect for this post. Have some compassion and respect her. Think of how your sister or girlfriend or wife would feel if someone trolled them and very conveniently rubbished them in public.” Kohli’s alleged girlfriend actor Anushka Sharma was held responsible for Virat Kohli’s poor performance and she was being tagged as bad luck for Kohli.
Similarly, Delhi police officer Monika Bhardwaj was called all sorts of names on Twitter after she had posted saying that the murder of a dentist Pankaj Narang in the national Capital did not have a communal angle. Bhardwaj’s crime was that she tried to stop the spread of false rumours on social media regarding the case.
Now, what picture emerges after having gone through such incidents? The term is called trolling. In a country like India where half of the 300 million Internet users are active on social media and if the statistics are to be believed, an unprecedented hike on social media users is on the way. Across India, there are 143 million users of social media. Urban areas witnessed a growth of 35 per cent with 118 million users as of April 2015. On the other hand, the number for rural India stood at 25 million, up from close to 12 million last year, showing a growth of 100 per cent. Then why things seem to have been going haywire when it comes to accepting contrary views and ideas? The real ‘intolerance’ is being seen at such platforms.
Falling prey to the mindless herds
Analysing the issue, well-known sociologist and political commentator Abhay Kumar Dubey calls the trend as ‘platform of rejection’. “All kinds of people ranging from intellectuals and serious ones to extremely radical, non-serious and unwanted folks are active on this platform.
Writing unsolicited comments, provocative and personal attacks are their part of daily routine. Now situation is such that majority of social media sites and platforms are under siege of those who have money power and affiliation to some or the other political or religious ideologies. And that’s why these platforms are being used to attack their opponents. Now this is the reason social media is losing its credibility and I don’t see it has any impact left on the political process. It is a tool where people are seen canceling or rejecting others’ opinions no matter how illogical, insensitive, abusive or provocative their views are. Only meaningless confrontations are there which serve no purpose,” he says.
Several studies and analyses also point out that majority of social media users are active just to seek others attention. “Trolls either will abuse you or comment on your sexuality, religion or caste. No logical and sensible perspective is expected of them. Due to this increasing chaos people are also opting out this medium in abroad,” said Pankaj Sharma, a Delhi-based social media manager, who is working for a known management company.
When it comes to trolling women, social media, in particular the army on Twitter, has the determination of a bloodhound. On some of the prominent Internet playgrounds of the world, misogyny and attacking women, famous or non-famous, is a favourite pass-time. Tennis-stars, actresses, women politicians, journalists, the list of victims is endless; most people on social media – and this is not limited to India – think they can get away with abusing women or anyone who disagrees with the herd.
Ideology vs Technology
When it comes to opting for modern technology, it’s assumed that with the technological advancements, people start thinking in a modern way but is this the case on ground? “It’s a wrong assumption. Ideology and technology are two different things. One cannot expect that with ever changing and updating technology the ideology will change. Never. Generations after generations it has been observed that whosoever is getting professionally trained, no matter how advanced or modern his area of study is, sticks to his similar ideology, religious beliefs and opinions. Doctors , engineers, scientists or any other trained in modern sciences are still radical and fundamentalist in approach of seeing things in life. Their advancement does not guarantee ideological modernity.
People are settled in America, London or any part of the world and still backing groups based on their castes, religions or any other conservative ideas. And they are the ones who come attacking on social media,” says veteran freelance journalist and editor of Mass Media journal Anil Chamadia.
He also goes on to add, “One may see that social media is uniting people as on the name of caste, belief, religion and ideologies. But if one sees things from a bird’s eye view, the medium is dividing people or you can say the divisions are evident on uncountable number of facebook pages and whatsapp groups. Is this heading us towards any ideological advancement?”
The rumour machine
The word ‘viral’ has become as popular as the smartphones. A video titled as Drunk Delhi Police man on Delhi metro – Funny was posted on Facebook and showed Delhi Police head constable Salim PK struggling to hold on to a pole while swinging back and forth inside the moving metro coach. In an enquiry, it was found that he was not drunk but at that time was losing consciousness because of a major blockage in his brain, while travelling home from work. He said the video was circulated by news channels showing him as drunk, leading to his suspension. After Delhi Police gave him a clean chit, he was reinstated. Similarly, with the increasing use of Whatsapp, Facebook and other messengers, users are more prone to unverified information and news.
“In situations like JNU debate, attack on a Muslim family at Dadri in Uttar Pradesh, pro-Hindu or pro-Muslim videos and hate-speeches, we are witnessing a surge in fake messages. Internet users are receiving and forwarding the unverified content without having a sense of it repercussions. In some videos and messages Hindu community is shown under attack by Muslims, while in some others Muslims are shown as victims. These messages are so creatively drafted and videos are used from any part of the world. The trend is a great threat for the medium’s credibility”, says Gajendra Singh Bhati, a journalist by profession and a keen observer of changes in social media.
Having witnessed an insurgence in circulation of the fake content on social media, famous Hindi news channel ABP News has started a new show Viral where all such viral pictures and videos are closely investigated and majority of them are found fake.
Need for shock-absorbers
With a burst in ever-increasing mobile and Internet users in India, can the literate class of the nation afford going maniac on social media? In this social-media driven world where every message, word, emoticon and upload has a contributory effect on opinion, responsibility and accountability lie where?
Explaining his understanding Abhay says, “With such incidents of fake content which is specially being designed to provoke others and to polarise similar-minded people and converting them to mobs, it’s clear how important is the role of an editor.
People are using Internet with least responsibility and several social-elements are encashing this only. Time has come that some shock-absorbers must be invented to minimise the cacophony of worthless confrontations.” While social media manager Pankaj adds that social media users must not use the medium mindlessly as it has some repercussions. “Blocking annoying people or opting out the medium is certainly not a wise advice but to apply brain is. One must think over what he is receiving through a Whatsapp message or a facebook post and think twice before pressing the forward button”, he added.
**Troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people. He or she does this by posting comments in an online forum, with the deliberate intent or provoking readers into an emotional response.