For 400 years the troll was an imaginary creature until social media made it real. Oxford Dictionary describes ‘troll’ as an ugly creature in Norse and Swedish folklore, ‘depicted as either a giant or a dwarf’. Those of us who have run into one online will vouch for its being very ugly. Now comes the good news that the troll’s days are numbered. Google subsidiary Jigsaw will soon release Conversation AI — software that accurately recognises online abuse and harassment, and silences it.
Nobody will mourn the troll’s passing but as one of the chief monsters of our age it will be dissected and analysed for a long time. Here’s what I have learnt about it from a few disgusting encounters this year:
Lightning rod topics: You can write a critique of Pythagoras’ Theorem without ever running into a troll, but the moment you venture something about religion, politics, nationalism or cricket — in India — you become a lightning rod for them. Trolls respond to only very basic topics.
Trends: Trolls watch what’s trending. They want bang for their hot air. An essay on the constitution of Greenland will not get you any traction online, and trolls won’t go after it either. Write something, anything, about Kashmir and they will sniff. If your essay starts trending, they will pounce upon it.
Illiteracy: Trolls seldom read beyond the headline. For instance, I wrote this piece a few days ago. It was about governance, but trolls decided it was about religion because the headline had the words ‘nude gods’ in it. Few trolls took the trouble to read the article.
Embryonic intellect: Having judged a book by its cover, trolls quickly proceed to pass judgment on it. Sample: “This is not a place to discuss or propagate religion. I am sure you will find better avenues to discuss such topics on FB or Twitter,” many told me.
Pathetic writing skills: While most are content to growl at you, some need to demonstrate their vigour with longer barks. Sample: “Let us know which idiot have made this picture to show down Hindu’s ancient gods?? Should we also openly talk about other religions with their foolishness ideologies???”
Shirkers and idlers: In my experience, trolls strike during the work day. They are very aggressive during office hours but disappear by about 9pm. By next morning, when the article has slipped down the list, it ceases to interest them completely.
Partisan character: Like ready-to-serve meals, trolls come with ready-cooked opinions. They have a limited, unalterable menu, and they slap down a dish on the table regardless of whether it suits the occasion or not. Sample: “You know very well that we Indians believe our Mother & Father as the divine form of Gods. Was it necessary to post or it was posted precisely? make sure in future the so called think tanks and people like you spare our Gods……”
Uncouth behaviour: Trolls demonstrate their ugliness with words. Samples: “I seriously feel like every fool either here or in the west or in any damn part of the world has such liberty to talk about Hinduism…”, or “Abhilash Gaur, you could have got more attention and appreciation, if you had published this ‘fake’ story in an English Daily or on a News channel. Unfortunately, no one here interested in buying your ‘facts’. And please stop publishing more such sh** here.”
Problematic positions: Behind a troll’s foul language lies the same aggressive and intolerant ideology that has created al Qaida and ISIS, which leads me to the last point.
Bullies with a persecution complex: Trolls justify their insufferable behaviour by appeal to imaginary injuries inflicted by others. They are good and the other side is bad. They can never go into a case without bringing up the ‘other side’. Samples: “Visit some of the countries like China, Pakistan, UAE, Bangladesh, etc and express your genuine feelings about their God or religion and come back,” or “Salman Rushdie episode you don’t know? Even his South African admirer writer was killed! India can tolerate PK movie but dare make a PK movie with…”
It will be a happy day when AI wipes every troll’s dribble off the comment sections of websites. The mind will be without fear then, and the head held high.