Manish Tewari is a lawyer and a former Union minister. The views expressed are personal. Twitter handle @manishtewari

State of the Union: Invasion of the troll armies

Published Sep 30, 2017, 1:54 am IST
Updated Sep 30, 2017, 1:54 am IST
Social media rules cannot be the same for Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and India, US, Japan and even Sweden for that matter.
what do you do with trolls who abuse anonymity provided by social media platforms in the name of privacy to launch verbal molotov cocktails? (Photo: Pixabay)
 what do you do with trolls who abuse anonymity provided by social media platforms in the name of privacy to launch verbal molotov cocktails? (Photo: Pixabay)

On September 16, I tweeted two videos from Stockholm that were forwarded to me on WhatsApp. The first was an abbreviated takedown of the television news media by an aam aadmi. It is a must watch. The second video was of the Prime Minister of India ostensibly walking while the National Anthem was being played. I put a headline onto the second post/tweet that read: “The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India & the National Anthem of India — Must watch”. The tweet had got 1,897 re-tweets and 2,678 “likes” at the time of writing.

One of the responses was from an alleged troll Deepak Kumar Singh @DeepakK71306265. He wrote in response to my tweet: “Aap Modi ko deshbhakti na sikhyaye chacha? Unhe Mahatma Gandhi v nhi sikha skate. Modi ke DNA may… bus aap kitna niche gir sakte ho dekh lia”


It just shows how low can you stoop. I was mightily amused at the response of this troll, as he is representative of the nameless, faceless bots and trolling entities created and omnipresent on social media platforms with the sole objective of vilifying, slandering, abusing political opponents of the right-wing in the most obscene invective.

I quoted the tweet and wrote back in Roman Hindi that this is called having fools as followers and keeping them in a permanent state of foolishness and then I extrapolated a line out of troll Deepak Kumar Singh’s tweet that even Mahatma Gandhi can’t teach Modi patriotism and rounded it off with a couple of smileys. As would be evident from the sequence above at best my response was a put down of a shadowy troll who implied that Modi’s patriotism was greater than that of Mahatma Gandhi.

The troll armies of the right-wing and the North Korean TV channels that they have created and co-opted — who have been at the receiving end of my trenchant criticism for a while — pounced on the tweet and started accusing me of abusing the Prime Minister using an alleged profanity in colloquial. They had gone into the same tizzy earlier when an esteemed senior colleague, much in jest I presume, had posted or re-tweeted a post ostensibly saying that PM has two achievements making fools as followers and fooling his followers. Of course, the meme used for fools or, dolts was in the colloquial. He added an appropriate disclaimer “Not mine but couldn’t help posting it. My apologies to the person concerned. He is the best in the ‘Art of Fooling’.”

A young reporter of a North Korean TV channel, who had come to take a byte on some other subject forewarned me that their channel — a propaganda arm of the BJP and the government these days, were going after Digvijay Singh by spinning the story that he had allegedly abused the Prime Minister by posting a tweet that supposedly contained a Hindi profanity.

More out of amusement than curiosity, and since I was supposed to brief the media at the regular Congress briefing that day, I consulted not one but two dictionaries to find out the meaning and English translation of this purportedly abusive colloquial expression. The first dictionary I consulted defined that particular colloquial expression as a blockhead or a fool. The second dictionary defined it as “blockhead, dolt (ish), stupid, nincompoop, silliness, stupidity, doltishness etc”. Someone tweeted the relevant extract from this dictionary and it is available on my twitter timeline also.

Thus, it was quite evident that the colloquial expression did not mean the spin that the North Korean TV channels were going to put onto it. That did not stop them from pillorying Digvijay Singh and, later, even me as if we had committed nothing short of blasphemy. A whole Sunday afternoon and evening was devoted by them running around as headless chickens and manufacturing outrage by calling upon BJP spokespersons, right-wing apologists and all those who wanted their two minutes of fame to vilify me, despite the fact that I clarified the context of my response in a series of subsequent posts on Twitter on Sunday itself.

Ironically, no one even bothered to check the timeline of the enigmatic troll that I had responded to @DeepakK71306265. It is riddled with invective in the filthiest language possible. Some of the posts can actually become textbooks for those wanting to learn English and Hindi profanity.

He is not alone there are millions of such bots that have been created for industrial-scale trolling and seeding fake news, alternative facts and hurling vitriol and invective at political opponents. Most of them are gofers of their right-wing masters.

You just have to go to the responses of anyone who opposes these right-wing bigots now in power to get a sense of how much profanity, even the most innocuous posts on social media, are subjected to by these perverts and trolls.
Therein lies the conundrum if someone gets antsy about what Digvijay Singh or I may have put out, then that person can vent and fulminate at us or me for all that it is worth. There is an identifiable person at the end of that social media account.

However, what do you do with trolls who abuse anonymity provided by social media platforms in the name of privacy to launch verbal molotov cocktails? Politicians can take it as they are thick-skinned but when college-going students get trolled, threatened with rape for holding an alternative point of view from the powers that be, when journalists both men and women are threatened with dire consequences for speaking truth to power and they have no institutional back-up it can become very scary.

That is why in non-conflict Westphalian sovereignties where revealing the identity of a social media user does not carry fatal consequences social-media platforms must ensure that every social media account has a verifiable address.

Social media rules cannot be the same for Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and India, US, Japan and even Sweden for that matter. The multi-stakeholders dialogue that is trying to evolve common rules of engagement must take cognisance of this reality.

It cannot be a one-way street that a Digvijay Singh or I can be attacked, albeit for erroneous reasons by the whole wide world, but those who abuse people who have a dissenting view from “powers that be” routinely issue death and rape threats have a free run. There cannot be different strokes for different folks.