The irresistible misogynist trolls in the social media

"Ignore it or reach out to the concerned authorities" says Debarati

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Hate is taught

With another new year, I enter the 9 year as a blogger. In these 9 years I got to see emergence of different sorts of crimes against women on the cyber space. While in India the most bothersome type of victimisation targeting women is definitely creating fake avatars in the social media or in the adult networking websites, one can understand that emergence of irresistible misogynist trolls in the social media also claims attention of every one now. Way back in 2013 in my article “Examining the scope of Indecent representation of Women (Prevention) Act, 1986, in the light of Cyber Victimization of Women in India”, published in National Law School Journal, 11, 188-218, I researched about fake avatars and trolls. These topics later found vital places in my Ph.D dissertation thesis only to remind me that these issues will never die until the victim lets them die a natural death either by ignoring them or by reporting the matter to the concerned authorities.

Trolls find a unique place in social media especially in India because they are not ‘recognised’ by any laws in India as specific ‘offenders’. They feel ‘overpowered’ because of this to express their opinions in several threads, blog posts, media news clippings etc. However, they stand apart from other individuals who express their opinions because of their language in which they communicate: it is impolite, arrogant, hateful and often misogynist. There are different types of trolls who communicate their expression in such way. These may include workplace trolls, information seeking trolls, lime-light seeking trolls, fan-club trolls, educational institute trolls, activist trolls, racist trolls, political trolls, State sponsored trolls and also misogynist trolls in particular. The list may include many other types of trolls existing in social media and on internet in general. Misogynist trolls take to internet and social media to disrupt discussion about women, which may include discussions about welfare measures as well. One such example is this continuous publication of troll posts, which appeared in the official Facebook page of ministry of women and child development (MWCD) when the concerned minister Ms.Maneka Gandhi, announced several welfare measures for women including the publication of Handbook on sexual harassment of women at workplace. While many stakeholders expressed their opinions in these threads in Facebook, misogynist trolls found their own way to entertain themselves by insulting others, especially women. Among these, one troll post which repeatedly targeted women, expressed anger on the issue of safety of women in the workplace, other expressed anger for the issue of special treatment of women . The bone of the contention was, if women cannot endure workplace politics and back biting, which is often seen as ‘workplace harassment’ by researchers and activists, then it is best for women to stay at home and cook for their husbands. Some women protested the troll posts. Some chose to ignore. But these troll posts started growing in number because no one actually banned them , but may have chosen to block them personally. I noticed one such troll post and reported the matter to the Facebook as well as the Facebook page of MWCD. Fortunately my report was accepted with a positive note from Facebook which removed the misogynist troll posts. But this may be a temporary arrangement for no one was booked for any ‘offence’ and as such, the opinions thus expressed in the FB page of MWCD may not actually invite any penal sanctions because they are not targeting any particular individual, but women as a whole. Resultant, the troll posts are back in the same FB page in different forms, showcasing hatred towards women in different forms. Their omnipotent presence is felt everywhere even in Twitter or Google hangout and they are becoming more powerful understanding that using hateful words targeting women may make them more (in)famous to gain easy lime light.

While S.66A of the Information Technology Act was in use, many people had used it as well as misused it. But hardly anyone, including the police could properly use it for preventing such misogynist trolls or opinions. I being an ardent fan of positive use of S.66A argued for using it to prevent such misogynist opinions, racists’ comments, personal defamatory remarks etc on many occasions. Unfortunately in many occasions, either victims were not ready to take the matter to the court and press for a good experiment of this law, or the police showed complete apathy to such issues, which they felt were trivial. Many activists suggested that trolls and bullies may be regulated under different provisions, and S.66A should not be made alive because of this. But I opine differently. In my recent article “A Retrospective Analysis Of Section 66 A:Could Section 66 A Of The Information Technology Act Be Reconsidered For Regulating “Bad Talk” In The Internet?” Published in Indian Student Law Review (ISLR), 2015(1), pp 98-128, I documented my opinions in this regard. But as I researched in this particular article, if misogynist trolls cannot be regulated because their posts may not give rise to threat to any particular woman ( as it had happened in the case of Elonis decision), it does not mean that they can grow with no fear of checks and balances. The moment troll posts step into defamatory posts, the victim can and should consider taking the troll to the proper authorities.

But here again lies the problem of understanding: if the troll posts affect a more ‘powerful victim,’ say for example, a corporate house for any particular product of them, or a particular group of people, they may decide to take action against troll collectively. But if it is an individual victim, the apathy of the social media as well as the police may make the trolls more powerful. When social media does not take any heed to the plea of the victim to prevent the troll from his activities, the troll may start posting more vigorously with a twisted message as how he remains literally ‘uncontrollable’. It is nothing but provocation to the victim to counter response so that the troll can counter attack. Unless the police take a serious note by not considering this as trivial, the trolls may continue attacking their victims unless they get bored. It is expected that the concerned authorities, especially the MWCD may take note of the situation and implements regulatory provisions to control such disruptive activities in the name of free speech.

(“first published as Halder D. (2016), “The irresistible misogynist trolls in the social media” 8th February, 2016, published in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.com/ in http://debaraticyberspace.blogspot.in/2016/02/the-irresistible-misogynist-trolls-in.html)

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