Book Review: I am a Troll

Book Review

Why does a bourgeoisie democracy fail? Why do people end up choosing bad governments? This question has lingered for long. The intellectuals have tried to argue that it’s due to the lack of information people choose bad governments. In an era where mainstream media (TV, newspapers) are controlled by big corporates social media was seen as a redeemer. The intellectuals hoped that with widespread internet connectivity and social media people can at last get sufficient information at their fingertips and this would usher an dawn of new age in world polity. The revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt which used social media to gather mass support further strengthened this Idea. Social media thus became a new pillar of democracy.

The Book “I am a Troll” written by journalist Swati Chaturvedi digs deep into the world of BJPs digital army that trolls and spreads hatred on the social media. Post Godhra violence in Gujrat, BJP realized very well that they cannot change the perception of the middle class through the mainstream media, sections of which were very critical of Modi’s role in the carnage. BJP resorted to social media and among the total of 56 million election related tweets sent out during the time of election campaign, 20% of it, 11.1 million tweets had mention of Modi. AAP and congress was no were near to this. Such was the importance BJP gave to its presence on social media. While most of the activists have a firsthand experience with the Hindutva Trolls on the social media, so far BJP has denied any connection with any of these venomous elements on the internet. This book attempts to prove how the organized is the Hindutva hate propaganda and trolling on the internet through interviews with some of the Trolls on twitter who boast of their obnoxious ‘achievements’ and the confession of Sadhvi Khosla, an ex-member of the BJP IT Cell.

Sadhvi Khosla, a software techie and an entrepreneur, was one among those who were angry with various scams that broke in the second term of UPA government and wanted a strong leader. She gets a personal invitation from Modi to join the BJP IT Cell in 2013. Khosla puts everything aside and joined the BJP IT Cell, “National Digital Operations Center (NDOC)”, as a volunteer. It was there, she met with the reality of how organized the hate campaigns where. The single point agenda was to troll the Gandhis and mock them all. A core group of 50 volunteers who worked in the BJP IT Cell headquarters used to get instructions on the daily basis from Arvind Gupta, the head of NDOC. Instructions were to be followed without any questions. Everyday new enemies, who were critical of Modi, were identified. Once that was decided paid Trolls were given instructions of what to tweet and when to tweet through mails and twitter was flooded with messages of hate. Some of these Trolls even flaunt pictures of their meeting with Modi and are followed by Modi himself. When their account gets reported and suspended by Twitter for their bigotry, BJP ministers themselves join the twitter campaign organized by the Trolls to unblock the account, as in the case of a troll Mahaveer where Giriraj Singh, the Union Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises led the campaign to revive Mahaveer’s account.

Sadhvi Khosla realized that this is not what she signed for. Even the twitter campaign against Aamir khan when he expressed his views on the growing insecurity for minorities was an organized one that originated in the NDOC that has operated in a corporate fashion. Post elections from 2014 to 2016, Khosla had tweeted about 6000 times on the drug issue in Punjab and even tagged Modi who was following her on twitter, only to find no response from him. Disillusioned and with a deep sense of guilt Khosla left the IT Cell.

On one hand, we have the mass protests that happened in Tamil Nadu around the issue of ban of Jallikattu which dared to challenge the state and on the other hand we have large scale communal violence in Muzzafarnagar, both of which used social media for its own ends. Technology in itself cannot play a progressive role in a society. It depends on who controls the technology. Today’s technology is in the hands of the big corporates and the wealthy ruling class. Reactionary organizations like the BJP and RSS have been successful enough to use the social media to construct a fake reality where Hindus are always under attack and manipulated the consciousness of a considerable section of the mass. Even Facebook pages that appear secular and apolitical have used memes from time to time to propagate the RSS agenda subtly. We also have corporates pushing for new plans like “free basics” which restricts access of information available in internet to masses. If implemented it would be the corporates who decided what information reaches the people and what should not.

We may negate the arguments put forward by an individual or a page on social media, but it still goes rounds on the social media and reaches the masses. Organized bigotry and hate propaganda like that of the rightwing fascist forces can only be challenged by an organized working class on the ground.

Arun Kaliraja