The Wild World of Trolls and Chats: Proclivities or Preoccupations?
Asoke K Laha, President & CEO of Interra Information Technologies
A recent troll about an article titled, “The Bridge on the River Choulueca” by a well known author, speaker and leadership coach Prakash Ayer, appeared in Business World was a delight for many. The number of people who had forwarded the message would be in several thousand if not in million. I tried to see why the troll had become such a hit in the social media and the talking point.
More than the content, what struck me most was the timeliness of the troll. Had the troll been in circulation some time before or even later, I do not think it would have engaged the attention. I often feel that there is a herd instinct among people to follow the vogue phrases or styles. There are instances when people started imitating legendary people. Hitler’s toothbrush moustache, which was imitated by many including comedian Charlie Chaplain, was a craze of those days and a style statement among the youngsters that era. I do not see many growing that type of moustache these days. Maybe that fashion would have become hackneyed and you never know when that will come back.
Coming back on the River Choulueca troll, I feel that it triggered a chain of thoughts among the readers about the disruptions created by the pandemic. The narrative of River Choulueca refreshes in our mind the mirror image of what is going on now, the complex web of uncertainties, human sufferings, unexpected vagaries of nature, question marks on everything that the civilization had created and a destructive trail. More than that it instructs you to be realistic in the present world and be adaptive to get going with developments that unfold on you. Yes, it has a subtle message that connects you with the present.
I also tried to discern how trolls go viral. Any suggestive troll will immediately go viral. One more example I will explain. Immediately after the unfortunate incident of aircraft skidding from the runway at Kozhikode airport, there was a troll making a wide impact about the pilot who navigated the ill-fated aircraft. It was about him singing in front of an audience and enthralling them with a Hindi melody of yester years. It was a heart wrenching rendition, which forced many to shed tears. Many paid great tributes to the deceased valiant pilot who was highly decorated little realizing that the troll was a fake one. It was about a Vice Admiral entertaining a group of army officials with his singing prowess. Even then people did not feel bad about it though the troll was a fake.
That forced me to introspect on trolls. What type of trolls makes you cheerful, melancholic or angry? I feel any troll that is designed to mislead and cause damage to the reputation of a person by distorting facts may be shunned. Then what about trolls that do not cause any damage to any body’s image but still facts are distorted? My own submission is that such innocuous trolls should be encouraged provided they do not hit anyone below the belt. There can be numerous such trolls every day one may come across. After going through such trolls and the comic interlude they create, one may wonder the level of ingenuity of the author. He or she has to be creative to strike at such ideas that can put many into laugh and make them cheerful for the day. I even think such trolls or pictures are keeping social media lively, liked and viewed.
Should there be a categorization of trolls; good, not so good, bad and ugly? Or should we not put any ban or classification on them and leave everything to the viewers to decide. Who are we to decide for others and to act as moral police? Will it stifle freedom of expression and lead to over reacting to a situation? How do we distinguish between good and bad trolls? What are the yardsticks for assessing them? Should we not restrict our role to read the troll and if we like it express it by liking it, if not dumb it and express that it is in poor taste and refrain from trolling to other persons?
I feel strongly that everyone has a right to express the opinion whether one likes it or not. For absorbing such expressions, one has to have a tolerant mind. Does it mean that the present generation is short of such accommodation to laugh at a troll made at his/her cost? Let me tell you that there was a golden time for witticisms, potshots and mild attacks on personalities, however low or high they were in the social ladder. The Punch magazine, which used to come out from London, was a role model. The Punch or the London Charivari was a British Weekly magazine of humor and political satire. It helped the coinage of the word cartoon. Its circulation peaked in 1941. After that it went into a decline, which led to its closure in 1992. Though it was revived in 1996, fate had it that it was closed in 2002. Hardly any politician or statesman had escaped the humorous slant of the Punch.
In India, we had several clones of the Punch. Shankar’s Weekly, which used to come out from Delhi’s Wall Street–Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg-was one among them. Down South Chou Ramaswamy published another political satire called Tuqlaq. Then we had the cartoons every day in Times of India by the legendary RK Laxman. The Indian Express had Abu Abraham and Statesman had OV Vijayan. That does not mean such cartons are missing now. They are there but the punch and depth are missing. Probably the cartoonists are hamstrung since they may not have the bandwidth their earlier generation commanded with the readers and the personalities whom they have caricatured or subjected to humorous remarks. .
I really do not know the dynamics which are working now but I sincerely hope that there should be more space for witticisms, cartoons and caricatures in our society to help people to be happy and cheerful. Perhaps, that lack of outlets for people to laugh at to relive their tensions stemming out of daily chorus would have helped the proliferation of social media.
Today it may be social media or trolls that hold the sway, tomorrow it could be something else, which can be transforming the world. Let me do a wild guess on that. Should there be a time when what we think can be converted to visual format simultaneously? Then the rule changes, dynamics of expression undergoes a transformation since nothing is lost between your thought process and visual representation. Does it mean the present experts in social media take a backseat and a new crop of experts emerge to occupy that space? What I can say now that it is possible, whether one likes it or not? It is only a continuum process.
An analogy in real life would make things clearer. Not long ago, there was a system of heads of states or people of eminence coming with their reactions to an event immediately. Their secretariat had to work to produce an informed reaction to an event or a policy. Now, every leader, from top to bottom, has a twitter handle to come out with their reactions 24/7. How they had cut down the time limit for coming out with reactions, which earlier used to take hours together to see the light of the day. It is because they themselves handle their own twitter and Facebook accounts. US President Donald Trump is known for handling the twitter on his own and does it so frequently, which are amplified instantaneously across geographies to the newsrooms without any intermediaries. Assume a situation when a person can transmit his thoughts directly to the machine, which in turn can broadcast it far and wide? That I believe is the next level of innovation in media. The question is: when will such a breakthrough happen. I feel that it will happen soon since that is only a logical extension of the present mediums of communications. That will also change our systems. Do we need fiber optics and other backbones to carry our voice and data messages? My realization is that such backbones may become irrelevant and redundant and may continue to exist for a lesser important function. That is the disruption the troll on “The Bridge on the River Choulueca” is also talking about.