I remember once saying something on Twitter about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s China visit, and immediately there was a barrage of trolling sentences that covered such creative and ingenious uses of the Hindi language that if I put them down here, this website would be shut down for obscenity. My ancestry was brought up, ways I would die, and a range of general abusing brilliance involving my heritage, my home, my choice of profession, my education, all of which made me think to myself — if the people doing this on Twitter put all this creativity into running the country, we’d have great roads during the monsoons. Also, I felt a bit jealous. I was in a creative profession and their imagination was way ahead of mine. Trolls-1. Comedian-0.
We all know the BJP-Congress war, really, plays out on Twitter. Its after effects play out in Parliament.
The moment Rahul Gandhi tweets something, an army descends, mostly humans, but also many bots, to attack him in ways even Picasso would praise. The moment someone asks him a question abroad at a university lecture, 250 versions of that clip show up on Twitter somehow making the clip look like he embarrassed himself. Even Christopher Nolan would take storytelling edit tips from the trolls.
How does that affect real life?
On Friday, Rahul Gandhi hugged Narendra Modi saying he has only love for those that hate him. Subtext being, yes I know you have a troll army but I forgive you because I am messiah-like — I forgive and win over with love — like the main character from Raju Hirani’s early movies.
My favourite thing about the Modi hug was this sequence of events. Modi extends hand post Rahul speech. Rahul Gandhi says he's here for a hug. Modi gestures "No. what?" Rahul stands ground. Modi tells Speaker, "This is not done." Rahul hugs anyway. Modi looks like an estranged upset dad from a Karan Johar movie
Rahul Gandhi’s larger point was that he hopes to change social media abuse against him (and the many names he’s called), to love, by embracing trolls digitally, similar to what he did offline with the prime minister. Noble. If one looks at his Twitter, and the amount of hate on there, that’s going to take up pretty much the rest of his life and he won’t have much time for running an election, or indeed the country, were he to win. Spreading BJP troll love is a full-time job.
Yes, the troll army has made the middle classes believe the idea that Rahul Gandhi is not very clever. There was a time when whatever he did, (good or bad), everyone would say, ‘That’s foolish”. Even if he was walking, someone would say, “Look at Rahul Gandhi walking. What a foolish way to walk. Who walks like that?”
This was tweet-driven perception building, executed with finesse. Laced with abuse.
The strategy was Trump-like. Bombard Twitter with a thousand tweets a second using a three-second clip of an hour-long Rahul Gandhi speech out of context and adding text suggesting he doesn’t know what he’s saying, and the public are convinced. Given attention spans are now three seconds long, the public feels they have enough knowledge to decide.
The Congress, however, has a different trolling strategy. If you said anything against the BJP, you were Congress; it didn’t matter if you lived in Iceland.
The right-wing trolling is moneyed, powerful, immediate and like an avalanche. If you were a female journalist, then definitely there would be a lot of personal attacks about your life choices, threats, associating you as a direct blood descendant of Karl Marx etc.
The interesting thing is one couldn’t tell if these people were from a political party, bots, machine generated, or an actual human called Sampresh living in Baroda, holding a sword, as the Twitter photo indicated.
It’s weird not to know the difference between a man who hates your way of life or an algorithm made of up software code.
A friend engaged with such a bot for a while, a bot that had threatened to come to his office and ‘burn’ him, only to realise that the photo the bot was using was of a Ranji trophy cricketer.
The tricky part of the ire of right-wing trolls is that if it is an actual person, it could mean anything from threats to burn your house down to putting up your mobile number for 3 a.m abuse from strangers. Or it could mean nothing at all. The uncertainty is what makes people uneasy. In China and Saudi Arabia, there is no uncertainty. If you are anti-establishment, you tweet, you go to jail or die. Knowing the facts, you can proceed. Here, you could either get beaten up or get famous and go on Republic TV or Dance India Dance or both — one never knows.
Right-wing Twitter is also very good with Photoshop. Modi has travelled the world extensively but if there was a way where they could use, say, the prime minister’s visit to France to show a photo of him building the Eiffel Tower by hand and then standing on it, they would.
The Congress in retaliation, plays above the Hindi abusing market mainly with the heft of Dr Shashi Tharoor and Salman Soz and others. Tweets which sort of suggest, “We’re better than this. These are documents to refute a BJP claim.” Attempting dignity. Only to have comments under it emerge that say, “Dogs. Liars. 1984…”
And then less dignified Congress supporters respond with: “You genocide supporters!” Hindi expletive, Hindi expletive — into infinity.
The Congress trolls, however, have/had one great weapon — demonetisation. Since 2016, they’ve put up a photo of anyone standing in a line starving, hungry, or dead, and claimed it was because of demonetisation. One photo was from World War II.
The most confusing (and fun) person to be on Twitter is one that states opinion issue-to-issue, based on facts. Judging complex issues without taking sides. Trolls go mad with people like that. If they can’t quickly say, “Is he Modi? Is he Congress? Is he sickular? Is he a libtard? Who is he?” it drives them nuts. In modern life, if you can’t be put into a box, you have no right to exist.
By the way, a sickular (often used by trolls on Twitter) sounds like a cooking utensil and a libtard (equally used) sounds like a swimming outfit.
Look, maybe Rahul Gandhi’s hug will change all that. I don’t see a hug emoji on Twitter so I’m not sure what the trolls will do but maybe they’ll make one. Else, they will be up all night stretching the possibilities of Hindi insults. As Pandit Nehru said, “No pursuit is without love.” Even hate.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Jul 21, 2018 15:33:19 IST