On February 7, a young woman blogger on Instagram posted a video, speaking about the toxic content in a highly popular Instagram handle run by a Keralite. Shriya Nambanath, a Thrissur-based architecture student, took on Dr Chrome Mental 500, a handle with nearly 9 lakh followers and a loyal male fan base in her video. Run by a Kochi-based doctor and bike enthusiast, Dr Chrome Mental aka Dr Ajith Tâ€™s stories range from politically incorrect, offensive and sexist memes to news trivia, page promotions of struggling bloggers and other similar content.
However, Dr Ajith T has now been accused of promoting pornographic posts, child sexual abuse material (or child porn), misogynistic and homophobic content and more through another handle. In the video, Shriya accuses Dr Chrome Mental/Ajith T of running a parallel instagram page named Anonymous Malluz 2.0 which mainly posted memes objectifying women, and more shockingly was linked to a Telegram group with audios of women narrating experiences of sexual assault that they had undergone as children. It is not clear if these recordings were made by actual survivors.
The Anonymous Malluz 2.0 handleâ€™s posts have now been deleted and the bio edited. However, screenshots from followers confirm that the page did contain vulgar posts. The bio of the handle had claimed that the page was managed by Dr Chrome Mental. Underneath this, in Malayalam, the caption read 'touching is a sin, watching is good."
Speaking about the audio recordings that were allegedly made by sexual assault survivors, Shriya says, "The audio clips or 'wire conversations' were saved with names such as 'kazhappi', which translates to 'horny girl'. This is child sexual abuse content narrated by survivors, and it was shocking to see it being treated with so much insensitivity."
Following Shriya's video, the issue has now blown up on Instagram. Malayalam channels such as Mathrubhumi too had a discussion involving Dr Chrome Mental 500 and other YouTube content creators on the topic. In an aggressive reaction to the video, Dr Chrome Mental 500 did a live show on his social media page in which he was seen issuing threats to Shriya for her video. His fans too have now threatened to sue me in a week, Shriya tells TNM.
"My Instagram has been flooded with messages from men, with curses and sexist abuses. I have not been opening these messages as they are traumatic to read," she says. The cyber mob attack only goes to show the toxic influence these big social media influencers have over their fan bases, she adds.
Chrome Mental has vehemently denied that he ran the Anonymous Malluz 2.0 page and has threatened to sue Shriya. However, he has not taken any legal action till now and an old video of him boasting about starting the Anonymous Malluz 2.0 handle is also doing the rounds.
Only a police investigation can reveal who was actually behind the Anonymous Malluz 2.0 handle, but the entire controversy has brought to the fore the toxic conversations on social media and the popularity that notorious handles enjoy, especially among a young audience.
Toxic fanbase and cyber bullying
Shriya's is not an isolated incident. In September 2020, Bengaluru based law student Surya Revathy exposed another Instagram handle which goes by the name Recklezz_390, run by a Keralite man identified as Jaljaas.
"A few friends had sent me screenshots of this handle's comments on a viral video, where this man has posted incredibly lewd and sexist curses on the comments section. I put out a story against this and very soon I was the victim of a planned and extended cyber attack by this handle and its toxic fan base," recalls Surya to TNM.
So horrible was the cyber bullying that Surya filed multiple complaints with the local police and the Kannur Superintendent of police (her native place is Kannur).
"The handle and its fans put out trolls and memes which slut shamed me and ended up in character assassination. He spread rumours that I was having multiple relationships with different men at the same time, and even made a meme with my picture. I later withdrew because of the mental trauma the whole ordeal had caused me," Surya recalls.
The handle has 81,000 followers on Instagram, and Jaljaas regularly talks about good deeds and against social evils on his page. However, the Instagrammer has been accused in multiple cases, including a morphing and cyber attack case against a homemaker in Aroor Alappuzha.
Jaljaas was also a prime accused in a cyber attack case against a woman police officer based in Kochi. He has also been accused of morphing pictures of women and posting them on social media pages, according to various local news reports.
The incidents have sparked a debate on the need to hold content creators accountable for the posts they share.
"The most celebrated content on the internet is homophobia, sexist and lewd posts, casteist/racist jokes, body shaming and more. It is not surprising that you see this content on pages of content creators with huge fan bases. However, the influence that the page's content has on followers is not trivial. The verbal harassment and cyber bullying that these young women are now facing are reflective of this toxic culture," says Vivek Poonthiyil Balachandran, who along with wife Vrinda, runs The Mallu Analyst, a YouTube channel exposing regressive pop culture trends in Kerala.
Aysha Markerouse, a popular feminist voice from Kerala, feels such pages are â€˜toxic masculinity messiahsâ€™. Referring to the blockbuster Telugu film Arjun Reddy which has been criticised for glorifying toxic masculinity and violence against women, Aysha says, "The kind of acceptance and celebration that these clones of â€˜Arjun Reddyâ€™ get on platforms like Instagram and Tikotok should raise an alarm, in an ideal society. Most of these profiles have the same Arjun Reddy ingredients â€” toxic masculinity, abusive language, promotion of intoxicants, bikes and travel, bad-mouthing feminism and usage of terms that aim to belittle people who disagree with them â€” Mowloos, Moodesh, Feminichi, Colony, Paavada are some of them. The modus operandi is putting up stories and posts pointing their fans towards the person who disagreed with them or called them out â€” thus unleashing a verbal attack, slut shaming and threatening them."
Watch Mallu Analystâ€™s video on the Chrome Mental controversy