Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for August, 2021 is Digital Realities. We invite submissions on the many layers of experiences from the virtual world throughout the month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to firstname.lastname@example.org
When a popular person makes a public comment that is factually incorrect, it hardly takes time for netizens to troll the individual. A single post post or opinion can change things beyond one’s control in the virtual world. In the past few years, with the increasing popularity of social media, we have witnessed an increase in the number of individuals being sensationalised through trolls.
Women, especially those who work in the entertainment industry have had a special place in this mix. They are the ones who are often trolled the most, and the list includes names like Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone, Richa Chadha, Tapsee Pannu and Rakhi Sawant, to name a few. Men too have no escape. Public figures like Anurag Kashyap, Farhan Akhtar, Fawad Khan, and others have also been subjected to insensitive trolling.
The origin of trollers
The history of trolls dates back to Scandinavian folklore and Norse mythology. Trolls were mythical beings who dwelled in isolated rocks, caves or mountains far from human habitation. Folk tales describe them as ‘strong, slow, dim-witted, ugly and short‘. They are described as dangerous, hostile man-eaters who turn into stone upon exposure to sunlight.
In the internet era, a troller (noun) is a person who posts provocative messages or jokes on social media. Author, politician and orator Shashi Tharoor writes , “The troll’s intent is usually to insult, offend or abuse their targets in order to provoke a response for the troll’s own amusement or to score political points.”
Trolling has now become a part of the virtual word, as well as an almost accepted template for critique and entertainment. However, if we delve deep into the language and layers of trolling, we can see that they are not just harmless jokes. They often harbour problematic stereotypes and take a huge toll on the mental health of people.
Promoting gender stereotypes through trolling
By now, it is clear that most trollers on social media have an agenda that motivates them to troll people. What must be scrutinised is the contribution of trollers in the promotion of problematic narratives. Quite recently, Farhan Akhtar was trolled for mistakenly tweeting and congratulating the Indian Women’s Hockey team instead of the Indian Men’s hockey team for their bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. He realised his mistake almost immediately and deleted the tweet.
But netizens trolled him brutally. He was called ‘Alia Bhatt Part 2′ and ‘Male Version of Alia Bhatt’, and the internet flooded with memes, and jokes. Alia Bhatt had nothing to do with this tweet, but still, her name was dragged in to refer to another individual’s factual error.
Alia Bhatt was heavily trolled a few years earlier, after goofed up on the show ‘Koffee with Karan’ and answered ‘Prithviraj Chauhan‘ for a fun buzzer round question about the President of India. She was tagged with offensive adjectives that questioned her intellect and trolled for her lack of awareness.
She was trolled until she became synonymous with stupidity. A recent incident that led to her being trolled again was her post sharing an image of the Indian Contingent from the 2012 London Summer Olympics as the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Undoubtedly, it is essential for every person to verify facts before they post on social media. This accountability increases with increased reach as in the case of celebrities like Alia and Farhan. However, if we look closely, it is evident that Alia was not trolled solely because of her slip of tongue.
By calling Farhan Akhtar ‘Male version of Alia Bhatt’, trollers promote a very problematic gender stereotype. Alia’s gender plays a significant role in vicariously dragging her into a situation where a man is being trolled for his factual mistake. It is rarely that the burden of a man’s mistake is used to refer to a woman, in reverse instances of this.
Though both of them got trolled individually, trollers may not be quick to refer to the next person who gets their facts jumbled ‘Farhan Akhtar Part 2‘ as readily as they would use references of Alia Bhatt or the ‘RCB Girl‘.
Popular culture also reflects this narrative in movies, ads, and songs. Even within our families, if a man makes a mistake or a miscalculation, the immediate advice is ‘don’t be stupid like girls’. This kind of gender stereotyping is rampant in our homes and society, and popular culture and the virtual space are just extensions of it.
It is curious that when men express themselves or commit error, they are sometimes given the benefit of doubt and offered chances to learn, while women are trolled and their identities are anchored to that one incident. Errors, when committed by men are equated to past references of the same by women and not other men.
By othering women and equating the female gender with stupidity; netizens and trollers have assumed the leeway to be abusive and unforgiving while trolling women. Women receive death threats, hate messages and lewd remarks for their opinions, expression and existence, whether or not they have made factual error. This reflects the entitlement and proprietory attitude we harbour as a society towards women.
Trolling when toxic is not only scarring to the emotional and mental well being of the person trolled, but its mass appeal and read also strengthens problematic gender, caste, class stereotypes which are insensitive, and extremely detrimental to the growth of a progressive society. As human beings, it is also essential that we hold space and give everyone the chance to err factually in the cyberspace, without being forever burdened to carry the baggage of it.
Featured Image Source: Connected Life Conference