How does one deal with abusive users, hiding behind the veil of anonymity that social media platforms offer? 

Social media has ensured that the information highway becomes upgraded and you can get instant updates about anything from pictures of your best friend’s latest vacation to the war in the Middle East or the what’s being served at the Masterchef kitchen; all with mere flick on the screen. However, recently, social media has been in the news for abuses, slander and threats issued by trolls’, mostly nameless individuals, who use these tactics to get back at people, organisations and groups they do not like or are politically and socially not in agreement with. Recently, a move by union minister Maneka Gandhi, calling for setting up a helpline to monitor abusive trolls resulted in a social media backlash. What are the reasons trolls exist and what are the mechanisms to deal with them?

IT professional Rajiv Singhla says, Indian Twitter and Facebook has become very politically charged. It has resulted in even civil exchanges being hijacked by trolls and political motives being ascribed to everything one says or posts. It is almost like if you are not a Bhakt, congressi or an Aapia, you should not be on these platforms. I just block people who are abusive and mute those who enter into an argument just for slander and pointless accusations.”

He adds, I feel that the anonymity that many of these platforms offer is the reason for such behaviour. Many of these trolls abuse and even threaten women users, who do not conform to their way of thinking.”

Researcher Anja Kovacs has worked on a clutch of projects dealing with online abuse and points out, Most of the abuse that happens on the internet is reflection of larger structures of oppression, such as sexism, racism or hatred based on religion. This is true of much of the sexist abuse women are faced with online as well. Our research showed that having opinions about politics, saying something critical even about one’s own religion and talking about feminism, gender equality or issues of sexuality all increase the likelihood that women are targeted by abusers online. A lot of what happens online takes the form of moral policing, and just being a woman is enough to become a victim to that.”

She adds, It is important people support each other. Apps developed by communities that allow you to automatically block lists of abusers, before they have even followed you, are another good example. Those apps are also effective in ensuring that abusers will not be able to affect as many people anymore. I do not support banning anonymous accounts as they benefit many marginalised internet users.”

Architect Shakti Singh says, I do not engage with abusive people online. Anyone who uses language they would not use in actual conversation is not fit to talk to. I feel that a mechanism should be in place to ensure that trolls using threats and abuses are not allowed to use these platforms.”

A helpline that checks out cases of abuse online is indeed a good idea and may make social media platforms a good place for debate, discussion and sharing of information, instead of becoming dens of wanton outrage and abuse.

Originally published in The Hindu.