Trolling and the Changing Dynamics of Social Media

by Aditi Mukund

Photo Credit: Carl Vernon

Social networks are communities in every sense of the word. They can give marginalized groups a voice, catalyze social action, and even overthrow dictatorships. They foster connectivity beyond borders, the cornerstone of a globalized world.

More young people of the world remain connected via the internet than any other medium. Ideas and opinions are no longer constrained, the news is instant, and the information is free to access. And yet, something invariably comes in the way of a fruitful exchange of thoughts- trolling.

Trolls are disrupters. They seek to upset people, sow the seeds of discord, and cause distress. Trolling is downright petty and thrives on an emotional reaction. Trolls are everywhere: they’re in Facebook comments, they’re the egg profile pictures on Twitter, and they’re on your Instagram direct messages.

Trolling is a desperate attempt to seek attention, and very often, they succeed. The comments section of any social media platform should be engaging. In reality, it is disheartening. Test this out by going through the comments on any actress’s Instagram and you are likely to be met by a slew of expert opinions on how her legs are somehow against Indian culture.

Anyone can be anything on the internet. One of these things is anonymous, and under the guise of anonymity, unnamed trolls with faceless display pictures can get away with the most vitriolic statements, without facing any backlash. It isn’t hard to see where the appeal lies. Rubbishing someone you disagree with and calling them names is far easier than coming up with a well-formulated argument against what they’re saying, and understanding their point of view.

Trolling does something far worse- it prevents dialogue. Dialectical exchange on social media, generally devoid of rules or regulations is a tricky ground to navigate, and trolling only makes it futile. When a thread, forum, or even a person is susceptible to trolling, it diverts the audience from the core message behind what is being said. Trolling provokes other people to react, and not in a productive way: they usually resort to cussing and foul language, with occasional references to one’s mother or sister.

While trolling is not exactly violent extremism, it is extremely subjective. The internet is polarised. Some argue that it is an extension of freedom of speech, while others say that this freedom comes with consequences. Trolls may not have the power to be violent in person, but they frequently make death threats and rape threats, especially against women, leading to a general feeling of insecurity on the internet.

The world is online, the youth is online, and our future is online. The internet generation must continue its task of using the internet to shape narratives of peace, encourage meaningful dialogue, and counter extremism without falling prey to online abuse.

Aditi Mukund is a master’s student at the Symbiosis School of International Studies. As a closeted optimist, she believes that her generation of international leaders will bring the world one step closer to peace. She can be found obsessing over coffee, cats, and equal rights.