A 20-year-old B Com. student Dhanyashree was found hanging in her house in Karnataka after facing repeated threats from pro-Hindutva internet trolls. Her ‘crime’? She had posted ‘I love Muslims’ messages on her social media and was also seen wearing scarves in some pictures. Even her WhatsApp account came under fire from these Right-wing elements, who then propagated false rumours of her romantic involvement with a Muslim boy. The trolls finally won, but a precious life was lost forever.
The case only worsens the knotty 21st Century phenomenon of online trolling in India. In a 2014 survey, we topped a list 254 countries for cyber bullying. No less than 32 percent parents surveyed said their children have experienced some form of online bullying. According to a Microsoft study of online bullying among youth 8-17 years old, children in India reported the third highest online bullying rate among the 25 countries surveyed.
With no direct provision to tackle the problem under the country’s Information Technology act, how do we deal with this swelling menace? Several ‘anti-troll’ organsiations have set up helplines to address the concerns of the victims. More recently, the country’s union minister of women and child development Maneka Gandhi had launched half-a-dozen apps aimed at women safety including ‘I am being trolled’ that notifies the nearest police station at the press of a button.
The latest endeavour aimed in this direction however comes from an unlikely MTV that is launching its new show ‘Troll Police’ on January 13. Actor Rannvijay Singha will play host, with each episode featuring a Bollywood celebrity tracking down their internet trolls with the help of the Troll Police team.
“With great power comes great responsibility and I really feel that while internet has given us the power to voice our opinion, there are a lot of people who do not use this boon wisely. Trolling is common nowadays and the major reasons for it are boredom, amusement and the need for attention. However, if trolls feel that they can hide his or her identity and use internet as a platform to send inflammatory and off- topic messages and get away with it, it is wrong and unjustified,” said Rannvijay.
Divided into three stages, the show will have a crew, comprising a social engineer, private investigator and the cyber-team, devise sting-operation-style traps for the troll. It will be followed by an on-ground activation on the troll’s whereabouts before the final confrontation.
“Once you corner the troll, they are shocked. Sometimes, they also get aggressive and stand by the suppsoed correctness of their actions. But once you familiarise them with the repercussions – legal or otherwise, they get sweating bullets.”
Studies have shown that even though children can be a lot more tech-savvy than middle-aged people, they are also the ones who are the most laid back about cyber safety and security. Also, pre-teens and teenagers are likelier targets as they especially rely heavily on social media platforms to fit in and get peer approval.
“But we also run background checks on the troll. We look for psychological traumas, past events etc that might have influenced their present behavior. This way, if one troll’s misdoings come to the fore, thousands of similar trolls will be made aware.”
According to Rannvijay, around 80 percent of the confrontations from the previously shot episodes have led to the accused accepting their mistakes and promising to make reforms in their online behaviour.
Celebrities like Neha Dhupia, Tapsee Pannu and Hard Kaur have been recruited for the first few episodes to garner maximum attention of our Bollywood-savvy population. MTV has also set up a troll helpline that can be accessed through Twitter and the hashtag #TrollPoliceHelpline.
There has hardly been any such large-scale attempt made to tackle the increasing trolling culture in the country. It remains to be seen how many Dhanyashrees the show is able to protect, but it is a promising foot forward.