Payal shows us the ugly face of trolls, red in tooth and claw. She explains the reasons for trolling and also suggests how to deal with these, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
It happens in real life, so why shouldn’t it happen online? Women being harassed, bullied, abused and attacked is not a new phenomenon, there’s just a new way to do it.
The one universal idea that ‘society’ seems to propagate is that a woman must be kept in ‘her place’, and this is the only reason that trolling of women happens so blatantly on the Net, with no fear of repercussion but outraged ‘morality’.
The Urban Dictionary succinctly describes ‘trolling’ as: “Being a prick on the internet because you can. Typically unleashing one or more cynical or sarcastic remarks on an innocent by-stander, because it’s the internet and, hey, you can.”
As with all things, trolling has moved from the realm of sarcasm, sick jokes and insensitivity to abuse, obsessiveness, viciousness, violence, rape, and murder.
It’s no surprise that women face a higher proportion of abuse.
Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, describing her experience of Internet trolls says: “The one thing that comes out from the messages I receive is, ‘Shut up!’ So perhaps it comes from a defensive reaction that by talking about women’s rights they think we must be trying to steal something from men.”
Troll behaviour is highly associated with what are known as the “dark” personality traits.
1. Psychopathy – impulsive, reckless, and lacking empathy
2. Narcissism – elevated egos, have a high opinion of themselves, unable to tolerate what they perceive as insults
3. Machiavellianism – scheme, lie and trample over others for personal gain
4. Sadism – a pleasure in hurting, destroying and causing pain
Why are trolls more likely to be men? Like the rest of society, the online world is highly gendered. Men are far more comfortable with public aggression and do not shy away from voicing opinions about what women should or shouldn’t do – it’s just a mirror to real life.
Just a few days ago, on the TV Channel Mirror Now, Faye D’Souza was shouted down by Maulana Yasoob Abbas “I am telling you, wear an underwear and come, you will be equal to men. Wear an underwear and come to debate. There will be equality between men and women.” He was objecting to the premise that women should be free to wear what they want. Very accurately, Faye D’Souza pointed out that such heckling was nothing more than an attempt to rattle her. She said, “(you think)…if you rattle women then they will run back into the kitchen and leave the world for you to conquer. I have news for you: we are not going anywhere.”
Women journalists are a particularly attractive target for trolls. A study by the think tank Demos found that men receive more Twitter abuse than their female counterparts in every single profession — except for female journalists. Stands to reason – how can a woman have opinions, and worse, how can she publicly share them? You think my statement has an extreme feminist slant? Not so – the trolls address directly the gender, femininity and sexual behavior or I should say the assumed sexual behavior of the journalist, rather than the topic under discussion.
Women presenters, journalists, writers, sportspersons, and actors face the brunt – really anyone who’s a ‘celebrity’. Not to forget women politicians, selective sexism comes into play here. It’s not about politics or ideology at all. Whatever may be the subject under discussion, its ignored and replaced by comments about their bra size, advise to ‘strip to get a vote’, and casual suggestions to ‘fuck’ someone, are par for the course. Hilary Clinton is supposed to have made a statement that women in public view need to have a hide thick as a rhinoceros. Abuse is often aggressively sexual. Rape threats are common. Ironically, these women are vilified for both being too sexual or not sexual enough!
Who says our society doesn’t promote a ‘rape culture’?
The team behind Just Not Sports, a podcast dedicated to sports culture, asked “a mix of people,” including friends and family, to read mean and often harassing tweets to sports journalists Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro. The comments were so vile, that men reading them out to these brave sports journalists broke down. Comments ranged from “sounding like a nagging wife” to “are you talking about rape to refute the fact that you actually aren’t getting any?”
It is interesting to note, while on the one hand, most trolls want women to be ‘decent’, preserve modesty and behave, they are not bound by any such rules, themselves. Especially in the west, comments slip right down to groin level, and the engagement is overtly sexual and sexually abusive at that.
In the Indian subcontinent, trolls prefer to advise to the erring woman. Sania Mirza was advised, ‘A good man will always love a woman with Hijab’ and the length of her skirt was a major issue.
Muslim women seem to face the brunt. Actress Fatima Sana Shaikh of the Dangal fame dared to do what every other actor does: post a picture of herself in a swimsuit. “The practicing Muslim can never indulge in such a cheap tactics. She is a Muslim by her name and not by her doings. So ignore and move on,” wrote a troll. “To all those who are praising Fatima for this besharmi, I am asking them would you allow your sister to romance with an actor and allow her to wear a bikini in front of the world? I am sure a true Muslim would never do that,” wrote another.
Most recently, actor Priyanka Chopra was trolled for wearing a dress during her meeting with PM Modi. “Priyanka, you were sitting with the Prime Minister of our country. You should have at least had the basic sense of covering your legs,” read one such tweet.
This is what Barkha Dutt, who is perhaps the most viciously trolled Indian woman, has to say, “I have been called a whore, a ‘randi’, ‘c***”, bitch and ‘presstitute” on Twitter and other social media platforms so often that now I barely notice it. It is not unusual for me to get tweets that go like this: “Tum agar randi bhi ban jaogi, phir bhi tujhe koi nahi ch*****” (even if you become a prostitute, no one will have sex with you).”
So, does that mean all internet trolls are just men? There is a fair proportion of women heaping shit on other women, too. As I said – the internet world mirrors the real world.
How do you deal with trolls?
• Have a clear policy for online comments
• track and report – anonymity breeds vermin
• Use moderators
For me, internet trolls are just that: hairy with overt machismo, screaming misogynists and wallowing in their dirty underwear.
Photos sourced by the author
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Businesswoman, curator of handlooms, poet, writer, and erstwhile doctor. Payal Talreja practices everything except her involuntary ‘profession’. She claims that words chose her and are now her weapon of choice because an activist born will stay silent for no man. A wanderer, a voyager, she’s happy to slum it or luxuriate in any life experience. She crafts poems and fiercely feminist essays and will assume her ‘Chandi’ avatar to ‘write’ any wrong.