Yesterday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in a “town hall” meeting at the headquarters of Facebook in Menlo Park, California. At the event, Modi answered pre-screened queries from the audience and Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive officer of Facebook. During this conversation, the prime minister heralded the power of social media as a vehicle for democracy and good governence, before adding that it “allows for accountability instantly.” Modi declared, “I ask all world leaders not to avoid social media and to connect to it.” However, in his eulogy to the power of the internet, the prime minister appeared to have forgotten about an aspect of social media that doesn’t lend itself to either a functional democracy or accountability. It is a spectre that has been haunting journalists in India: that of internet trolls.
The internet is no stranger to trolls—users who post inflammatory, threatening or disruptive messages—with Twitter itself having admitted to not having proper policies in place to protect its users from harassment. The Indian Twitter troll, however, is an oddly specific creature. This troll belongs to a motley digital mob comprised of Hindutva converts, misogynists, minorities, Congress baiters and “sickular”—a pejorative portmanteau coined for those percieved as having a secular point of view—haters, all united by their atavistic chest-thumping bhakti—devotion—for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Trolling has become such a problem that many find the daily abuse impossible to stomach and opt to remain offline. For instance, NDTV India’s Ravish Kumar, who anchors Prime Time—one of the most successful news shows across Hindi news networks that is broadcast at 9 pm—has recently ceased using both his Facebook and Twitter accounts. Previously a frequent tweeter, Kumar’s last tweet was on 22 August. He told me that posts such as the one below had become routine: