Gnomes, hobbits and trolls of social media

The first time I encountered the word ‘troll’ was in high school. That year, we had to read JRR Tolkien’s fantasy novel, The Hobbit, as part of our course for English literature. It was in the pages of that fascinating book that we discovered amazing creatures, including hobbits and trolls, inhabiting an imaginary, virtual world.

Trolls, we were told by way of introduction to these supernatural beings, traced their origin to Norse mythology. They were not particularly handsome in their appearance, lived in mountain caves and had their own social code. Human beings steered clear of them as they did of human beings.

I read The Hobbit at the turn of the last quarter of last century. Although it’s a memorable book, hugely entertaining at one level and profoundly meaningful at another, I had forgotten about trolls and their strange ways. And I didn’t hear or read about trolls till my foray into social media via Twitter.

Those were days of well-meaning innocence. Two terms I would hear often are ‘troll’ and ‘trolling’. The Urban Dictionary, which too I discovered via social media, defines a troll as someone who is deliberately provocative, disruptive and abusive.

A ‘troll’ is someone who “continually harangues and harasses others, has nothing worthwhile to add to a conversation, thinks everybody is talking about him/her, and has multiples monikers to circumvent getting banned”. Trolls also use anonymity as a shield. And their online activity is what is known as ‘trolling’.

Meeting a troll in the misty mountains of Hobbitland would have been a thrilling, if not delightful, experience. Meeting a ‘troll’ on an online forum, especially an open forum like Twitter, can prove to be neither thrilling nor delightful.

Yet, not everybody who is impolite to you, or does not shares your views, or has a bone to pick with you because of real or imaginary grievances, or simply has had a bad hair day and is nursing a foul mood, is a ‘troll’.

Nor does someone who pitilessly demolishes your argument, or calls you out for being less than truthful with facts, or tells you on your face that you are a charlatan and/or a philanderer (because you indeed are one), qualifies to be labelled as ‘troll’.

I have no issues with such people even if they are labelled as ‘trolls’ by those who feel unsettled by them. On more than one occasion I have defended them because I see them as subaltern sepoys who have at last found a means of having their say and calling the bluff of those given to bluster.

Also I quite enjoy watching worms squirm. Those mortified by ‘trolls’ like these have had a free run till now. No longer shall they go unquestioned; no more can they peddle their bunk without a quality or fact check. That’s social media’s biggest contribution.

Yet there are some irritating and bothersome 'trolls' who can leave you enraged. But we don’t live in a perfect world. In real life there are ‘trolls’ all around. Colleagues bitch about you behind your back at office. Relatives say nasty things about you after dining at your home. Examples abound.

Hence, it makes sense to ignore ‘trolls’ who abuse, defame and slander others, taking recourse to bazar language. It also makes sense to ignore the posh ‘trolls’ who pretend to be socially, culturally and intellectually superior and believe everybody else is a ‘moron’.

Some of these posh ‘trolls’ also happen to media stars, courtesy their real and sugar daddies. We contemptuously ignore insufferable fools, so should we ignore insufferable ‘trolls’ like these.

But that’s easier said than done. Often individuals take offence, very serious offence, to ‘trolling’ by ‘trolls’. What invariably follows is ‘I feel outraged’ or ‘I feel violated’. That’s silly.

In the virtual world of social media, it’s absurd to feel angry or violated, not the least because the millions out there give a damn about your feelings. Tough luck. Get real. Deal with it.

There’s a problem though. The easily offended, the perpetually violated, find it difficult to get real and deal with the fact that not everybody is a fawning admirer and an unquestioning toady.

News telly stars, who have till now talked down to their audience from the safe confines of their studios, are alarmed at being confronted on social media platforms, say, Twitter, for their glaring biases and for running motivated stories.

Writers who have pontificated from their ivory towers, brooking neither criticism nor correction, are horrified for being told on their face that what they produce is bilge. That’s not what they are accustomed to hearing.

The Bold and the Beautiful, the pretty people who blow kisses, call each other ‘dahling’, and pretend to know all about wines and single malts although anything but rum, the good old sailor’s drink, gives them indigestion, at Dior-drenched Page 3 parties, are left speechless by the audacity of the unwashed masses on social media platforms. Who let the dogs in?

The new digital order did. Social media isn’t the Gymkhana and Twitter isn’t the IIC. By the way, Bharat speaks English too. And guess what? Bharat has this terrible habit of questioning hypocrisy, exposing duplicity and lampooning gasbags masquerading as intellectuals.

So what will you do? Write a pompous piece denouncing Bharat? That will fetch much mirth and laughter – before you know, Bharat will be rolling on the floor laughing his ass off. Horrible ‘troll’ this, Bharat. But that’s what you get for removing the digital divide. Welcome to the New Virtual World Order.

The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta

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