'Some semi-literate lunkhead tweeting at Rs 2 per tweet from a dingy basement in Chennai or San Diego accomplishes nothing, but give hundreds of thousands of them a time, date, and talking points, and they can create a wall of sound -- a nonsensical wall, perhaps, but one that is heard, and that can occasionally prevail just because it's there,' says Mitali Saran.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
The biggest development the Bharatiya Janata Party has brought to India has been the online right-wing troll mob.
Skip this whole column if you know all about it; it's for those who don't get what the fuss is about.
The right-wing troll army is tasked with fanning Hindutva, and discrediting those parts of the news media and those individuals that haven't already discredited themselves by rolling over before the Narendra Damodardas Modi government.
It does so through insult, misinformation, a spurious insistence on 'data', and straight up lies.
Trolls trade on collective speech and collective unreason, deriving their strength purely from numbers.
Think bees and ants, but less cuddly.
Some semi-literate lunkhead tweeting at Rs 2 per tweet from a dingy basement in Chennai or San Diego accomplishes nothing, but give hundreds of thousands of them a time, date, and talking points, and they can create a wall of sound -- a nonsensical wall, perhaps, but one that is heard, and that can occasionally prevail just because it's there.
We could all learn a thing or two from the organisational capability of these creatures -- backed and directed by the BJP's information technology cell, and encouraged, followed, and felicitated by directly by Modi and BJP President Amit Anilchandra Shah.
Nodal trolls with tens or hundreds of thousands of supporters act either as original sparks to start a fire, or as petrol to throw on one when they are tagged by those with 182,000 tweets and 15 followers.
Trolls work with discipline, follow orders, and execute the dark arts of psychological operations.
They deflect substance and concentrate on reshaping public perception of their targets.
Their messages to those who dissent or oppose the government fall into a few broad categories, ranging from trivial to dangerous.
Right-wing trolls began as a nuisance, swiftly graduated to an electoral leg-up, then propped up propaganda sites such as OpIndia and Postcard News as legitimate journalism, and are now a serious challenge to fact, history, and the public's right to know.
They have so vitiated public perception of the media, under the benevolent guidance of the top BJP leadership, that one can only quote this twist on Martin Niemoller's warning: 'First they came for the journalists. We don't know what happened after that.'