ThePrint asks: Are trolls the new ombudsman or are they a nuisance Indian media has to live with?
If journalists can’t stand the heat, they should get out of the kitchen
A troll is a person who makes a deliberately offensive or provocative online post, says the venerable Oxford English dictionary. But what is it that provokes these offensive/provocative comments, especially when they target a media organisation or a journalist?
It is the need to be heard, the desire to get past the thick, almost-impenetrable traditional editorial walls from behind which generations of reporters, writers and editors have showcased their grip on the written or spoken word.
Just as it has transformed the nature of journalism as we knew it, the internet has also revolutionised the way in which news consumers access content and engage with it. And they have a right to respond, question, criticise, present another view and even find fault with content.
Journalists do not come with the divine gift to get it right every time, and in the absence of foolproof checks and balances in newsrooms – which sadly is widespread these days – the audience is forced to become the final arbiter.
Yes, trolls can be nasty, abusive or plain attention mongers, but so are some journalists/TV anchors. In fact, I often suspect nasty TV debates could be the parent of the army of trolls across the political spectrum. It’s too late to complain about trolls and their nuisance value. If journalists can’t stand the heat, they should get out of the kitchen.
A common mistake journalists make is talking of freedom of expression while denying it to others
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For people on social media, especially journalists, trolls – many of them faceless, nameless entities – are now part of daily life. Their freedom of expression often trumps ours. Their idea of engagement on social media often fluctuates between harmless banter to slander to vicious threats, including those of bodily harm. And, then there are paid trolls.
But, while we journalists do want to lead our lives peacefully, often choosing not to give the other side a chance to rebut our arguments, the most common mistake we make is to talk of freedom of expression while denying the other side their say or counter-arguments, we must remember that in some cases trolls do have a valid argument.
Now before someone from the liberal mob comes after me with the obvious question: If trolls are so good, why do they want to (sometimes) harm us and/or our families, here’s my clarification – some trolls are extremely vicious.
That they are able to get away with abusing us and issuing threats to us is an issue that needs to be tackled by the people who own Facebook and Twitter and the law enforcement agencies.
We have to realise that many of the so-called trolls are also educated people, who get upset with the things we post in the name of news or our obvious biases.
For reporters like me, the best way to make sure you are doing an impartial job is when one day you are trolled by the Right-wing (RSS/BJP supporters) but the very next day, the Left-wing or the liberal crowd comes after you, often with the same vengeance.
Ignore them, hate them, but trolls have become an important part of our lives.
Journalists should be their own ombudsman and regulator
Trolls are most definitely not an ombudsman. There is a concrete basis for an ombudsman to intervene, probe or advise correction. Trolls, on the other hand, will attack you, slam you and attempt to chasten you with or without any basis.
If a journalist’s work is questioned or criticised based on merit, then it wouldn’t quite qualify as trolling anyway. It is the unwarranted, baseless bashing with the intent of bullying, provoking, annoying or just confounding that best defines social media trolling as we know it.
In an age where unfiltered content on social media spreads like wildfire and where a journalist rushes to be the first to tweet, it is up to each of us to be responsible, cautious and as correct as possible about the content we put out – trolls or no trolls. We are our own ombudsman, our own regulator and our own best judge.
If social media is an indispensable platform for journalists today, trolls come as part of the package. They are a nuisance, yes, but only to the extent that you allow them to be. Ignore them, and they don’t get their oxygen – attention. Let them affect you, respond or fret over them, and you fall into the vicious trap they set out to lay for you.
Not all expressions online are harmful and we should accommodate other’s views
With the advent of social media platforms and internet technology in India, we all know how the control and flow of information have been remarkably decentralised. Anyone with a basic smartphone can now express their voice and opinion with a few thumb taps on a screen.
The dark side of this rapid decentralisation is that people can get carried away with the ‘power’ of making themselves heard and can unleash vitriol, abuse, and hatred against those who they disagree with.
To be sure, rape threats, death threats, and even other non-fatal violent threats have to be dealt with swift legal action. Indian regulators have to come up with ways to punish those who are vile on social media – or in the truest sense, those who can be called trolls.
For the rest of the internet populace expressing their social and political views, this newfound democratisation of spaces should be celebrated. It enables all of us to realise the pulse of the community as a whole, richens people’s perspectives, and induces diversity of thought in online conversations.
Not all expression online is harmful and we all – people on either side of a debate – should accommodate those who disagree with us more spiritedly.
By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint. You can follow her on twitter @khanthefatima.
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