Written by Jyotsna Iyer, a second-year undergraduate student.
Trigger Warning: mentions of threats, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. NOT for kids under 15.
What is trolling?
Internet trolling, commonly known as trolling, refers to the act of posting content or messages that are intentionally derogatory, rude or abusive. Trolling also includes comments and messages that engage in personal attacks on the person and steer conversations off-topic with often irrelevant remarks. People who engage in online trolling are known as ‘trolls’ in slang language.
How to differentiate between trolling and criticism?
The freedom of all people to express themselves, a.k.a., the Freedom of Expression, is an important stepping stone towards a free world. The internet, because of its accessibility, reaches and anonymity has provided users with this freedom extensively. Criticism of a person’s work and actions is often healthy and necessary, especially if the person is an influential figure in society. However, with a flood of trolls, many have a difficulty in differentiating between ‘trolling’ and ‘criticism’. Like every other tool of freedom, the internet can be misused in ways that make it a dangerous place. This, the trolls use to their advantage. Some features that distinguish a troll from a critic are as follows:
- The remarks are personal attacks, and not comments limited to a particular subject
- They steer conversations off-topic and make irrelevant comments
- The remarks are intentionally derogatory and rude
- They refuse to acknowledge evidence opposing their views
- They argue unreasonably and refuse to accept that people can have differing opinions
Why do people engage in online trolling?
One of the most popular things internet users hear about trolling is ‘don’t feed the trolls’. This stems from the understanding that trolls thrive off attention. Most people who engage in trolling do it because they seek amusement from the distress they cause to other users. They tend to fuel their feeling of superiority by insulting others, majorly celebrities and strangers. The anonymity of the internet and the platforms it hosts allows trolls to function without the fear of being held accountable. While many trolls engage in this form of online harassment for amusement, there are others who troll people with specific motives. The strong supporters of some political parties often troll supporters of other parties, people who criticize their party, and those who don’t have similar political ideologies. Presently, many extreme right-wingers in India troll opposition leaders and those who dissent against the BJP government. For example, journalist Rana Ayyub and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi are popular targets for these right-wing trolls. This trolling ranges from body shaming to death and rape threats. (‘Right wingers’ refer to people who support rightist political ideologies and rightist political parties. One example of a far-right system is fascism, which includes an authoritarian government, forcible suppression of dissent, and regimentation of property. Capitalism is also considered a rightist ideology, however, there are non-capitalist rightist systems as well.)
Hashtags on social media are used as powerful political tools nowadays. Political parties allegedly hire bot accounts, spam accounts, fake accounts, and IT cells to make hashtags trend and to take over opposition hashtags. These hashtags often include trolls and ones that are hateful against an opposition leader, dissenter, or someone else. Besides political motives, celebrities are often trolled mindlessly when they fail to match their fans’ expectations.
In a recent example, MS Dhoni was trolled to an extent where his daughter received threats from the trolls after Chennai Super Kings lost a match in the IPL. People who engage actively in revolutionary social ideologies such as feminism are also trolled often. For example, the Malayali actor Parvathy recently received trolls and hate comments after she called out a popular male actor for his misogynistic character in a movie. The amount of trolling one faces on the internet usually increases with their increasing presence and fame online.
Legalities of trolling.
There are no laws specifically criminalizing internet trolling, and the term ‘internet trolling’ hasn’t been defined in the IPC (The IPC or the Indian Penal Code 1860 is an Indian legal document that defines and explains offences). However, numerous sections of the IPC, when viewed in relation to the Information and Technology act (IT act), make internet trolling a punishable criminal offence. Some of the contexts under which a person can seek legal redressal on being trolled are as follows:
- Violation of privacy: if the personal information, pictures, or conversations of a person are shared online by someone without their permission, it is considered a violation of their privacy.
- Sexual harassment: if a person demands sexual favours from a woman, makes inappropriate sexual comments on them, or shows them pornography, it falls under sexual harassment.
- Publishing sexually offensive content
- Defamation: if someone posts content that is false and is intended at degrading someone’s reputation, it falls under defamation.
- Criminal intimidation by anonymous communication: if someone threatens an internet user using an anonymous account, it is termed criminal intimidation by anonymous communication.
- Hate speech: if a troll posts content that intentionally expresses and spreads hateful sentiments against a person or group, they can be held accountable under the offense of hate speech.
- Incitement of violence: if a troll posts content that encourages people to commit violence against someone, they can be held accountable under the offense of inciting violence.
There have been cases where celebrities who have been trolled, and even non-celebrities have attempted to take legal action against trolls. While it would be wrong to say that the majority of trolls are punished, there are cases where the courts have actually sentenced the accused to the deserved punishment.
One recent example where a troll was arrested is when Malayali actor Parvathy sought to take legal action against those who trolled her on Twitter. However, most people do not seek legal action and either ignore or give ‘witty’ replies to the trolls. However, it has been observed that both silence, as well as entertainment, have contributed to strengthening the trolling culture on the internet.
As aforementioned, the internet is a major tool towards a free world owing to the freedom it brings its users. However, trolling has made the internet an uncomfortable and dangerous space for many, rather than a free one. One of the ways to counter trolling culture is holding internet users accountable for their actions. On one hand, clearer laws and an effective judicial system are important to bring trolls to justice. On the other hand, any of these legal remedies wouldn’t be effective until those who are being trolled decide to take action rather than staying silent or ‘feeding the trolls.’ The dichotomy is that an average internet user fears a breach in their privacy, while an average internet troll walks free owing to anonymity.
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Please note: the views expressed in all opinion pieces belong to the writer. They may or may not reflect the opinions of the platform. I Kid You Not believes in giving a voice to today’s children, no matter which side of the debate they are on.