Many women journalists and non-journalists who have been abused and targeted on social media have been conducting a vigorous campaign against “trolls” in a newspaper under the hashtag #LetsTalkAboutTrolls.
There can be no two opinions that abusive people on the internet, especially interactive social media, are a scourge, especially when they target assertive women in the worst possible way. They need to be isolated and dismissed from our collective discourse.
But it is one thing to isolate and criticise abusers, quite another to pretend that “trolls” have only one colour – saffron. In fact, the problem is different: the word “troll” is itself being used as a term of abuse, often to delegitimise criticism of the powerful by the excluded who live on social media.
What social media has changed dramatically is the ability of ordinary people to speak truth to power, as Madhu Kishwar points out. This is what is causing distress in establishment voices who earlier believed that their control of mainstream media made them invulnerable to criticism. No one could question their motives, or what they wrote or said in public. Often, it is this speaking of truth to power that is being labelled as “trolling”. The actions of abusive trolls are used to delegitimise all those who merely question your hypocrisy and inconsistency on an issue.
If you want to know who holds real power, you should find out who is able to make a word mean exactly what they want it to mean, and not what the dictionary says it should mean.
In Lewis Caroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the conversation between Humpty-Dumpty and Alice goes on something like this.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone. “It means just what I choose it to mean - neither more or less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master - that's all.”
For India’s “secular, liberal” Humpty-Dumpty elite, a word can become a compliment or an abuse depending on what they want it to mean. Never mind if the word has little or no connection to what its dictionary meaning is.
A “troll”, says the dictionary, is merely someone who leaves a message on the internet to annoy people or to cause trouble. Causing annoyance or verbal disturbance is not illegal, and can easily be justified under broad freedom of speech rules, unless they degenerate into threats of violence. The word “troll” should not have a political colour, and need not include people who are abusive or misogynist. They are in a category of their own.
But when we talk about trolls, the meaning almost always reduces itself to Right-wing trolls. And since the word “Right-wing” has itself become a word with negative implications (it means those with a regressive mindset), “troll” is doubly condemnatory and precisely defined to mean those who disagree with “secular, left liberals”.
Interestingly, the word is never used to describe people who have the same annoying and compulsively negative behaviour outside the internet – like the Old Media trolls who constantly bait the Prime Minister or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) using old critiques that are well past their sell-by date. Examples: “An RSS man killed Gandhi”, “The Sangh is like ISIS”, or “Modi is a mass murderer”. A Mani Shankar Aiyar is never described as a troll, though he fits the definition, given his constant baiting and abuse of the RSS and Modi. The same kind of endless slander that should be considered trolling if done through social media, is excluded from the definition once it goes mainstream on newspapers or TV channels. Trolling in Old Media is characterised as healthy criticism, an exercise of free speech.
Several other words have been mangled out of shape to represent something that the Secular-Left-Liberal wants it to mean, and not what is logical.
Thus, “secular” means all non-BJP parties, not parties that are non-sectarian. You can be the worst bigot in history, but if you are not in the RSS you are secular.
“Communal” means not anything pertaining to a community, but only the BJP/Sangh.
“Liberalism” does not imply tolerance for multiple beliefs and diversity, but negative targeting of the majority community. It is a label that is handed out only by the Left or the Congress to people they like. “Liberal” often means being illiberal and intolerant to those who disagree with you, by denying them political space or legitimacy.
“Socialist” or “Left” does not mean anything more than populism anymore. The word “Socialist” entered the Constitution during the Emergency, but that did not stop any government from pursuing non-Socialist policies or market-based economics. Socialism means nothing anymore.
The word “Left” should mean pursuit of policies that help the hapless, but in reality it has come to mean worship of mass murderers like Stalin or Mao in the name of the poor. Not surprisingly, the Left in India has run thuggish regimes in West Bengal, and continues to do so in Kerala. In India, the Left’s pro-poor stance is theoretical. It can be more logically called suspicion of entrepreneurship and pursuit of anti-business policies. What the term Left actually means is growth destruction on a giant scale.
One wonders why the word “Left” is still spoken with a great deal of respect outside the pink press. As long as this remains true, it shows who controls the narrative and power.
The so-called trolls, minus their abuse, are playing a useful role in levelling the narrative.
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