Monster’s Ball: Six Things We Learn About The BJP’s Cyber-Bullying Army From ‘I Am A Troll’

BJP rally MumbaiMost Twitter users with liberal political outlooks would have at some point been targeted by right-wing trolls. These are jingoistic men and women incapable of arguing but adept at spitting abuse. For Twitter users who are not public figures and hence infrequently attacked, it’s easy to dismiss trolls as irritating loons. But well-known figures, especially actors and journalists, are routinely digitally harpooned in volumes that are hard to ignore. This is done in a systematic way by a corps of volunteers and paid social media workers recruited by the BJP, writes journalist Swati Chaturvedi in her recently published book I am a Troll. Chaturvedi was prompted to investigate the BJP’s social media practices after being relentlessly trolled on Twitter in foul, sexually abusive language. Women are almost always accused by them of being profligates and prostitutes.

What emerges is a scary picture of the BJP’s social media cell, a highly organised factory of slander, lies and nationalist rhetoric that often have offline consequences. For instance, doctored videos of Kanhaiya Kumar’s purportedly seditious speech circulated online led to his being jailed for a month. And following Aamir Khan’s comment on the atmosphere of intolerance pervading the country, e-commerce site Snapdeal egregiously dropped the actor as its brand ambassador after it was, allegedly, pressured to do so by right-wing activists. It’s staggering that this is the handiwork of the ruling political party, that this party enjoys wide public support and that its members are able to manipulate sentiments with such sleight of hand as to convince people that any line other than theirs is unpatriotic. Here are six things we learnt from I am a Troll.

The Prime Minister follows a bunch of abusive Twitter accounts
Prime Minister Modi follows some of the most abusive right-wing accounts on Twitter. These include the prolific Priti Gandhi (@MrsGandhi), a member of the BJP Mahila Morcha, and the Amit Shah Army (@AmitShahArmy), a fan club of the BJP president.

Sometimes BJP members are kept in line by their own trolls
Minister for women and child development Menaka Gandhi was criticised by BJP-supporting Twitter users when she set up a helpline for women victims of cyber bullying.

Online bashing is a nine-to-five job for some
The BJP social media cell, which is officially known as the National Digital Operation Centre, is headquartered on Ashoka Road in Delhi. It’s staffed by volunteers and paid workers and managed by Arvind Gupta, the head of the BJP’s IT department. Their agenda for the day involves setting hashtags either about government initiatives or criticising the Opposition and ensuring that its army of Tweeters makes the hashtags trend.

Sadhavi Khosla is a repentant former troll
Khosla’s story was reported by the Indian Express last week. A businesswoman and BJP supporter, she became a volunteer at the social media cell. After two years of dedicated trolling, during which her business was sidelined and her Congress-supporting father stopped speaking to her, Khosla was disillusioned and horrified by the fact that all she did all day was vilify people. The BJP now claims she was never part of their social media cell.

Trolls think alike
Chaturvedi found that all the BJP social media workers she met believed that eating meat makes Muslims violent. “Every troll I met was clear about two things: Muslims are very violent and they are violent because they are non-vegetarian,” she writes.

Ideology and technology make great bedfellows
An interview with Ram Madhav, the national general secretary of the BJP, reveals that the party and its ideological parent the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cottoned on to the power of social media much before its adversaries. Madhav talks about forming Information Technology shakhas to discuss and practice social media strategies. Thus the principle of effective organisation with which the RSS mobilises foot soldiers was applied to harnessing the internet to reach out to large numbers of people.

I am a Troll by Swati Chaturvedi, Juggernaut, Rs250.

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