I feel powerful: Confessions of abusive Indian trolls

Internet trolls talk about why they indulge in abuse and vulgarity online
I feel powerful: Confessions of abusive Indian trolls
I feel powerful: Confessions of abusive Indian trolls
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Haritha John & Monalisa Das| The News Minute| December 23, 2014| 6.40 pm IST

A young actor posts a picture on Facebook with a friend and a random guy comments asking, “Is there a conference of prostitutes happening?”

A woman posts a photograph of herself and a Facebook acquaintance asks her whether he should spit at it.

The New York Times posts a ‘racist’ picture of Mangalyaan, and within hours, hundreds of angry Indians converge on the page, a majority of them using the vilest abuses.

Welcome to the world of internet trolls. 

They are present everywhere, amidst us. We may know some of them, but it’s more likely that they could be anonymous.

There are the funny ones. And then there are those who condemn, spew hate, threaten, and hurl abuses and some even give lessons on morals. They can be protesting against an organization, a person, or a woman. 

So why do trolls behave the way they do? Is it spontaneous or is there a pattern behind their behavior? How does one choose to abuse people they know or don’t know on a public forum?

Razaq is a 23-year-old engineering graduate who is now doing some business. It is mostly in the night that he logs on to Facebook, using an anonymous account. 

Some days ago, a picture of Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, seen making the popular ‘naagin’ gesture during an ISL match was posted on a Facebook page.

Razaq abused them and asked them to take the act to the bedroom, in fact he had left many such comments on the same page.


“They should feel insulted and should stop showing off. I am happy that they are upset; let them learn a lesson. I think more people should abuse them, so that they know it is not right to behave in public like this,” Razaq says.

Razaq admits he gets a sense of pleasure trying to irritate and abuse people; they may be celebrities or even family and friends.

Razaq isn’t the only one. Twenty five year old Sharath gets a strange sense of pleasure when he can make ‘girls get upset’ on social media.

“We usually troll women more than we troll men. Boys will always look for girls. I like them in obscene photos, and I use foul language. I hate them at times, but love to look at them”, said Sarath.

Both of them admitted to using multiple accounts. Both, motivated by a false notion that the celebrities they are abusing read these comments and get upset, thereby giving them a satisfaction.

Thirty nine year old Antony is from Kerala and constantly targets actor Nazriya . “She thinks she is very beautiful. I don’t like that kind of arrogance. So I abuse her,” he says. Some of the comments he has left on her page, cannot even be mentioned on this article.

Antony believes it is natural to be vile online, especially for men from Kerala. “We Malayalis are very reactionary. We cannot remain mute spectators and people should know what the pain of getting insulted is,” says Antony.

He talks proudly of the group trolling that is peculiar to many online Keralites. “We made even New York Times apologise, it’s like social work.”

Lately, an online phenomenon that many Keralites appear to be engaging in is called ‘group trolling’. A person, organization or issue is picked against which the online community agitates. Hundreds bombard Facebook pages with comments, many of them profane.

The trend of group trolling or even targeting particular women celebrities has become an online phenomenon in Kerala, and as journalist Sandhya Menon writes in her blog: 

“Perhaps the most disturbing thing of all, to me, is the fact that all this is juxtaposed with education, that it exists in a society that for decades has upheld socialist values of equality and respect between genders. How does one reconcile the two? What is the point of an education if it hasn't helped you cultivate a respect for the girls you go to school with? How badly has education failed us, if men still consider sex and sexual insults the best way to attack a woman?”

There are also those like Fahad (name changed), a 29-year-old businessman from Mangaluru who believes that girls should not post photos of themselves online.

“Why should any girl post pictures online? Why should girls wish that everybody should see their pictures? If they want to show their pictures to their friends, let them send it through private emails. So when I see girls posting pictures, I tell them not post it,” he says. Although he denied using abusive language, he has in the past, posted a comment to the picture of a woman that said: “Do we drool over this photo, or spit and it and abuse (you) in the foulest language?”

For most trolls, this is a daily job. Scouring through posts, tweets, looking for people to target. Some spend hours, others simply turn to it as a hobby.

So are all trolls just psychos who abuse celebrities and therefore we needn’t be overly concerned? This is where the problem really lies. Three of the four we spoke to owned up that while their own accounts are used for targeting celebrities, anonymous accounts are created to aim at their very own.

“I have friends who keep posting pictures with their spouses. There are so many PDA pictures. That enrages me. But they are friends in real life, so I target them through other anonymous accounts. Sometime I abuse, or use those pictures elsewhere,” Sarath admitted.

Razaq has female classmates he despised, but in a strict college environment where he would have gotten into trouble if he harassed them in any manner, an anonymous social media account was the only way out. “It is a matter of feeling powerful, of knowing that I have the ability to teach them a lesson.”

Razaq, Sarath, Antony and Fahad are like any other people we know… and they mostly do their trolling individually. But increasingly, when a troll posts a comment that is abusive or obscene and is criticized for it, other trolls rise to occasion and defend the original troll. This sort of behavior, like a pack of wolves hunting together is also seen on many occasions, seeking to shout down protest by being the loudest and most abusive. 

Many of them aren't scared anymore, even discarding the cloak of anonymity, as there are others who come in their defense, often legitimising their acts.

Brian Limond, a troll told Guardian, “Not all trolls are the same; just like there are good witches and bad.”

“Let me tell you about my kind of trolling, a hobby of sorts, a fun and empowering way to annoy the fuck out of people.

Many have argued that the social media and patterns of internet usage are merely extensions of the what people do or would like to do in their material life. Judging by the relative lack of repercussions for troll behavior, and the increasing realization that there are many like themselves, internet trolls appear to be all set to give vent to their instincts for bullying.

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