“Dekho mujhe troll na karo, aur bohot deserving candidates hain…” is how Ali Dayan Hasan, director for the Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, managed to trend on Twitter while fending off a troll. While people (or tweeple as they are called) had a good laugh about it, speakers at a second day session of the Pakistan-India Social Media Mela 2012 said it was time they started taking “trolls” seriously.
Moderating a session titled ‘Fight Club: The Rise of Troll’, journalist and activist Raza Rumi tried hard not to let speakers say anything controversial, because the programme was being recorded. But inviting journalist and activist Mohsin Sayeed as one of the speakers spoiled his good intentions.
Rumi even introduced Sayeed as “someone who is a troll himself, but we are delighted to have him”.
Starting off, Rumi asked writer Bina Shah to define what a troll is. “Well, a troll is someone who deliberately provokes you into a fight on social networking websites so that you can say what he expects from you,” she said. Before she could say something else, someone from the audience said “boo!”, to which she was quick to retort, “That’s what I was talking about.”
Taking the debate further, she said most people who abused and got into inane arguments over articles one had posted on the Internet were actually good people in real life.
Sharing one such instance, she said: “I was once being hounded by a person who thought I am westernised and un-Islamic. I met him at one of the events where he introduced himself and he was actually nice to me, leaving me completely speechless.”
“But I’m as obnoxious in real life as I am on Facebook, let me add,” said Saeed, who by far, kept the debate interesting with his funny one-liners.
Abdul Majid, a blogger from Lahore, said that most of what was said in social networking websites’ comment section was reflective of society. He said most of the “gali mohalla culture” had seeped into social networking websites as well.
“We usually see how respected journalists like Nusrat Javed get abusive comments from anonymous and not so anonymous people, accusing him of drinking Kuppi and what not,” he added. While it made everyone in the audience laugh, the threats that some other get by the same “trolls” was discussed next.
Shah said that the trolls change when the person they are abusing is a woman. In that case, the threats change from stupid to sexual. Explaining an incident, she said that an activist even received a rape threat.
“My response in case of stupid comments is to give them back as good as it gets and block them if it gets annoying. In terms of sexual threats legal action is the only way to deal with them,” Shah opined.
The speakers were of the opinion that repression and lack of avenues for healthy discussions usually resulted in people getting abusive on Facebook or Twitter.
“My take is to confront them in order to understand where they are coming from. And in no way should we take them non-seriously,” Sayeed said and added that behaving in the similar manner as them would keep the debate going round in circles.
He pointed out that the majority of the trolls were youngsters, and refuted the oft-repeated claims that they were brainwashed in any way.
“Saying something pro-Ahmedi or anti-PTI can get you a large number of trolls within a matter of seconds,” he said.
However, a young blogger, Rab Nawaz, had a different take on the issue. He said that there was a difference in the person you are and the narration that you carry around in your head about religion, politics and gender. What helps most abusers is the anonymity but the community has to be self-policing as well, he said. “If followers of a political party are abusive on the Internet, the blame rests with the leaders. Not with anyone else,” he argued.
Summing up the session, Bina Shah said that it is intellectual laziness and a feeling about being unique that trolls think sets them apart, but in reality they are a bunch of unhappy people. “That’s why I say that more pubs and brothels need to open up in Pakistan,” were the provocative parting lines of Mohsin Sayeed.