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For whom the bells troll on social media

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15th-Mar-2017       
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Bikram Vohra :
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pretty much on the mark when she says that today every government has to contend with lies, fake sites, bots, things that are conjured up and packaged as fact. Merkel has been trolled as a Stasi agent and Hitler's daughter.
Recently, the Germans had to run around madly after a story broke on the Net that a 13-year-old schoolgirl in Berlin had been raped by Middle Easterners on her way to school. It was a fabrication. Two similar incidents occurred in the US to underscore dangerous Middle Easterners as if to add credence to the Donald Trump crackdown. None of it was authentic. Ipredators, as they are known, deliberately engage in criminal and deceptive behaviour. In 2016, a medical study showed that they are psychologically warped and suffer several problems. The Global Assessment of Internet Trolling (GAIT) estimates that they are largely psychopaths, dangerous and sadistic who have no moral compass.
They sanctify chaos and cruelty and are actually in need of medical help.
Trolls may rule the choppy waters under the information highway but if they think they are safe from the legal ramifications arising from their nastiness, they are mistaken. There is a new awareness of this cyber sickness.
For the moment, one has to concede they have not just taken over the running of public opinion but have been able to create a third and ugly dimension to the dispensation of news.
As evil ascendants of the folk devils that media uses to transport its message over the Internet, and do it sans frontiers, trolls today use their anonymity to cover their now scientifically accepted personality problems.
Until now, folk devils were perceived as people who went to social platforms and sped up the spread of messages. That means you, actually, the average end-user of the news cycle, who would then be expected to pass on the message without verification and with sufficient embellishment. As this usage of the public turned corrupt and venal, the arrival of trolls hiding behind madly grotesque pseudonyms and tags began to churn the waters with a rage and a sense of irresponsibility that has now become a major nuisance and a threat to global security.
While some trolls aspire to being the conscience of the people and project themselves as individuals or groups that are fighting the good fight and need to stay unknown to avoid repercussion or crackdowns, the fact is that if they do exist. They are outnumbered by a sad and pathetic army of bedbugs that crawl all over the Net hurting, hurling abuse and spreading deceit and hatred.
Last week at a conference in New Delhi I said this: It must require an outrageously ugly mind to hide behind anonymity and some stupid infantile title and then let go of one's sick desires by aiming them at others who, rightly or wrongly, at least have the courage to identify themselves.
And the thoughts expressed are gross. There is neither any sanity of debate, courtesy nor anything but profanity and lies.
Yes, you do feel outraged but you are only exhausting yourself.
Several people have tried to explain to me the role of a troll. I don't see it. It's like telling me termites have a positive side to them or cockroaches can be buddies once you get to know them.
Trolls also destroy the 'comments' section of any website by starting a fight amongst themselves that is not even remotely connected to the subject at hand.
So, I, for one, have failed to find any redeeming feature in this tribe.
For them, all that matters is to hurt.
This week in India a viral video of a young girl having a little fun singing and dancing in a car was deliberately and viciously trolled as that of Gurmehar Kaur, who has become a figure of violent controversy for carrying a placard of pacifism that read: Pakistan did not kill my father, war did. Her father died in Kargil in 1999.
Although she was not the girl in the video that did not matter. In minutes the trolls had taken over and created outrage at her 'lewd' behaviour, invaded privacy and literally attempted to create unrest in the streets of Delhi. while enjoying the destruction of two young lives. Unlike most of us who feel bad if we hurt anyone's feelings trolls go out of the way to be cruel. There are estimated to be at least 500,000 active trolls on the Internet like cockroaches in a sewer.
In August 2016, Time magazine carried a piece called the Culture of Hate specifically referring to trolls in the newest and ugliest age of the Web. But since then, trolldom has strengthened. Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter, was succinct in his condemnation: we suck at dealing with trolls and have so for years.
According to Dr Phil McGraw, one of the well-known mental health professionals in the world, trolls only engage in conduct when it pays off for them, in that they get a reaction.
Block them, filter them, reduce their ranks but never get into an argument with them. Since it is immensely difficult to track a troll they can be sprayed into extinction and frustration and eliminated from cyber bullying by using special software like Killfile.
Putting in key words that will block their appearance is another way.
Shutting them out totally is being considered.
In recent times some nations have legally placed a ban on trolling. The UK section 127 of the Communications Act calls for jailing if a troll is trapped. The House of Lords wants a special bill to be passed. Many have been. In the US, it goes against the First Amendment of free speech but every US state has passed laws against cyber-harassment and insult.
There was a time when Russia had troll factories where geeks with crazy minds concocted stories. They are suspected of having undermined US elections. One of these purportedly was a fake report about a coup in Turkey that caused havoc. Trolls spread a lie about Hillary Clinton's illness on September 11, 2016. Trolls spread disinformation or let their imagination run riot in the comfort of knowing they are not likely to get caught. But that sense of power could prove to be their undoing.
A troll called 'Old Holburn' wrote obscene jokes and mocked sentiments to an extent that he was tracked and caught and charged. A Thai-Chinese writer called Sriduangkaew hassled a British author to the extent that the author almost committed suicide. An Ebay troll called Charles Fitch violated every tenet of courtesy and caused so much trouble for the site that he had to be blocked for life.
People and corporations and government are hitting back at the sickos.
Tesla chairman Elon Musk trolled the trolls and used twitter to hit back at a fake news writer who was conducting a hostile campaign against the company. Even Ikea was not spared by a troll who spread fake reports about the organisation. When the famous McCann couple lost their child to a kidnapping in Portugal and were found not guilty of conspiracy, a troll called Seepyface hit them with accusations through 400 tweets indicating they were guilty. She was enjoying their misery.
Trolls have a habit of picking on one person and going for him or her with frightening vengeance.
If you are a victim of cyberbullying (14 to 30 per cent of Net users are), don't let it pass. The UAE has an active and supportive Cybercrime section. Call them. You may not win every war but every battle, however small, counts.
In fact I have two trolls in mind that I'd like to take a walk with into a dark forest.
(Bikram Vohra is a former editor of the Khaleej Times)

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