The Hindu Lit for Life 2018

How democratic a space is the Internet in the age of online trolls?

What democracy? (Left to right) Narayan Lakshman, Swati Chaturvedi, Teesta Setalvad, Gurmehar Kaur. Photo: S.R. Raghunathan   | Photo Credit: S_R_Raghunathan

We live at a time when nameless, faceless trolls swarm social media, abusing and threatening anyone who has a so-called disagreeable opinion. In other words, this is an age of cowardice.

Who pays and encourages these trolls? Journalist Swati Chaturvedi, activist Teesta Setalvad, and student activist Gurmehar Kaur — three women who face vile comments regularly online — spoke about the organised structure of trolling and its effects on journalism, in conversation with Narayan Lakshman during the session titled The Age of Cowardice and the Violence of Trolling on the last day of The Hindu Lit for Life.

Lakshman began the discussion by explaining how Facebook and Twitter have become distributors of news, and have changed the way media functions. They have allowed leaders to bypass mainstream media and communicate directly with voters. While it is a democratic space, social media has bitterly polarised people, created echo chambers, and given rise to trolling, he said.

Chaturvedi, whose book I Am a Troll dives into the secret world of the BJP’s digitised army, said that while researching her book, she discovered that about 50,000 people are brought together, “like a call centre” just to “discredit you all day”.

It is distressing that the Prime Minister himself follows about 42 abusive handles,” she said. Online mobs are dangerous as they could turn into offline mobs and spark riots, she cautioned.

Setalvad asked if the Internet is truly a democratic space. “Most people in Varanasi don’t have access; why is that?” she questioned. She said accounts that ask tough questions are often shut down, while accounts that incite hatred are not. Speaking of mainstream media, she said it has long abdicated its responsibility of speaking truth to power.

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Printable version | Jul 28, 2021 6:25:01 AM |

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