At 17 yrs of age, after giving my whole heart, soul, time and energy to studying for 12th boards I savoured the first taste of freedom in a chat room in a dark (but not dingy) cyber cafe. “What is this place?”, I wondered in excitement. I am actually cool here. Most importantly, am articulate, funny, flirtatious and nobody cares about my boobs size. Or maybe they do but I can pretend to be double Ds.
I started meeting random people from the internet and it continues to this very day. And am still in touch with a few people I met and connected in a chatroom at 17. They’ve known me longer than my closest friends.
One important lesson on the internet is the difference between online and offline. There are social media friends and there are friends. I find it hilarious when people I haven’t met get offended when I correct them that we aren’t friends. If you aren’t on my speed dial and we don’t talk in real life, we aren’t friends. If it doesn’t hurt when you leave my life, we aren’t friends.
Social media isn’t real life. People have a different personalities online or assume one. It isn’t real. Some of us are adept at compartmentalising and balancing both. But it has taken years and years of practice.
Now that I have womansplained social media to people on social media through social media, let me get to the point.
Urban dictionary defines trolling “as it relates to internet, is the deliberate act, (by a Troll – noun or adjective), of making random unsolicited and/or controversial comments on various internet forums with the intent to provoke an emotional knee jerk reaction from unsuspecting readers to engage in a fight or argument ” .
I am a nobody on the internet. Less than 1000 followers on Instagram and Twitter. My posts never go viral. My blog posts rarely have readers in double digits. And yet, I get trolled. That is the price we pay for being active here and being vocal about our opinions. It is worse for celebrities. Specially for female celebrities, who are at the receiving end of rape threats and abuses of the worst kind. Anonymity makes us bold. We say things we wouldn’t dare face to face. Even during debates, the objective isn’t to engage but to offend. The currents times are the worst time to be active on social media.
There are two instances when I faced horrible trolling, one is absolutely ridiculous and the other absolutely harrowing.
Few years back I had started a blog for movie reviews. Its readership was lower and only my facebook/Twitter followers visited it once in a while. I had reviewed Bombay Velvet, a movie that was creating a lot of controversy because people hated it so much. Anurag Kashyap’s trolls were having a field day over its failure. I love AK’s movies and will watch even his worst ones AND like them. I waited in a queue for 2 hours for the premiere of Mukkabaaz and would have gladly waited for another 2 hours AND loved the movie. I loved Ranbir Kapoor in BV, loved Karan Johar as the villain and the Jazz music blew me away.
Filmmakers of non commercial, small films retweet reviews from everyone since word of mouth is very important for their success. I guess I was the only person with a positive review on the entire internet and AK retweeted my review. My one tweet of fame followed by torture. The trolls came after me. I was like Rajnikanth surrounded by bad guys on all sides. Being accused of sleeping with AK for a positive review. Unlike Rajnikanth I couldn’t swat them away with panache and so I gave up. My phone kept buzzing all night with Twitter notifications. In the morning I blocked each troll to restore the peace in my life. It didn’t end there. I had criticised Raveena’s Tandon look in the movie. And her support brigade, who are trolls, came after me. Another sleepless night was spent blocking some 50 odd abusive anonymous handles.
Now I block incessantly. I block acquaintances who join Twitter so they can’t discover my handle. I block colleagues who check out my IG stories. I block random commentators and keep my feed clean. I block anyone who abuses. I don’t approve crap comments on the blog.
Your freedom of speech allows you to type out any shit you please online and my freedom of speech allows me to ignore and block your shit on my feed. Win win.
But it takes a lot of time on the internet to develop a thick skin. I learned it the hard way. In 2006, the year Twitter started, I started writing a blog. Hardly controversial or personal. My batchmates, friends, social media friends, acquaintances frequented the blog when they were bored or looking for entertainment. One day I started receiving comments from an anonymous id. Until then I was against comments moderation. There are 2 options for comments posted on a blog:
- No comments moderation : When anyone can comment and it gets published automatically. Approval is not required.
- Comments moderation : When the comment is held for approval and I can choose to mark it as spam, trash it or approve. Another sub option is if a user has a previous comment approved, their comments can get automatically published.
I turned on comments moderation since the anonymous id was quite abusive. The comments were posted everyday. They mentioned my private parts, described my body, talked about my female friends, our relationships, conversations, other friends etc. Someone we knew and met with everyday was posting them. I remember getting upset everytime a comment popped into my inbox.
13 reasons why season 1 isn’t fiction but a reality in social media times. Since this was a residential B school, there was no getting away from whoever this person was. We weren’t even sure if it would be possible to trace the IP address. Complaining to the authorities didn’t even strike me and my friends. Not that they would have done anything, anyway. I cried to sleep. I was scared all the time. Everytime I stepped out I was worried about who was watching. Every nasty thing anyone had thought or said about me was in my inbox. Everyday.
Initially, I reacted to the comments. But after a while, I got tired and stopped reacting. A lot of life’s shit goes away when you stop reacting. When you build an impermeable wall around you. The troll stopped. Just like that. Maybe he got bored. Maybe it wasn’t fun when the other person wasn’t responding. Maybe he found someone else. Maybe he got laid.
I could have a private account for a clean social media life but where is the fun in that. I’d rather be the rebel with a public account where you got to play by my rules if you want to stay.
Except when it is my family and then I may have to go private to keep their prying eyes out of the separate identity I’ve created online.