How Threats on Twitter Manifest In Real Life: Indian Troll Tales

Rana Ayyub, Neha Dixit, Patricia Mukhim & Vijaita Singh tell us about sustained online harassment they have faced.

5 min read
Hindi Female
A couple of years ago, I received a rape threat on Twitter. Being a journalist, and a woman with an opinion, I often catch the ire of the ‘patriarchs’ of Twitter. Yet, I’d never received a rape threat. When I did, I was not going to take it silently. I went to the cops, filled an FIR, despite the cops’ indifference. It has been years and nothing has moved. 
Nistula Hebbar, Political Editor The Hindu

Abuse against women on social media, especially Instagram and Twitter, is often sexist or misogynistic in nature. The online threats of violence against women are sexualised and include specific references to women’s bodies.

Social media is an extension of society. You don’t see women having opinions in the real world and if they do, the society usually muzzles them. When the same people graduate to social media, they end up repeating what they have learnt for years. 
Namita Bhandare, Senior Journalist

Quint NEON interviewed four Indian women journalists who have been at the receiving end of the trolls for an extended period of time. The virtual abuse had physical repercussions for each.


Rana Ayyub’s Constant Battle


Rana Ayyub, a journalist and an author, has faced the worst of the trolls. Social media was used to stalk, harass, and threaten her with rape and death.

The lowest that the trolls went was when they morphed my face on a pornographic video and sent it to my relatives, my parents and my neighbours. It was unbelievable.
Rana Ayyub

According to an Amnesty International Report, nearly a quarter (23 percent) of the women surveyed across the eight countries said they had experienced online abuse or harassment at least once, 59 percent of women who experienced abuse or harassment said the perpetrators were complete strangers.

Social media trolling is usually targeted at one person and hordes of people are then asked to join in and keep the trolling going for days and at times even months together.

My trolling is very predictable and it has not changed in the last 10 years. I am called everything from Jihaadi Jane to a sex slave, almost everything that has my religion and religious identity linked to it. I wake up to being called an anti-Indian and expletives, rape threats. The most predictable one is to ask me to leave the country and go to Pakistan. Calling me a sold-out woman, a prostitute, a slut who sells her journalism for money. I mean, this is routine for me.
Rana Ayyub

Sexism and Islamophobia All in One


Neha Dixit’s tryst with trolling is over five years old. Her number and home address has been circulated on social media. She has been intimidated by having her private family photos put out on social media. She has also received rape and death threats for doing her job.

I have started finding trolling very amusing, because it is one-sided, misogynistic and sexist. Once a man was constantly trolling me, trolling me and he said that I was the wife of an Al Qaeda operative. I said, why can’t I be the operative, why do I have to be the wife of someone here also? So, even by calling me a terrorist, I am not given the agency.
Neha Dixit

What is it about social media that awakens the ‘moral compass’ among the patriarchs?

Social media is a democratic space. If I have a Twitter or a Facebook or an Instagram account, I have the opportunity to voice my opinion. Irrespective of the background that I am coming from, the opportunity is always there. For the average Indian person, that is an aberration, because women are neither given the opportunity nor the agency to voice their opinion otherwise. 
Namita Bhandare, Senior Jounalist

What trolling has successfully been able to achieve are two things:

1) Silence the speaker
2) Deflect the issue

I am being trolled for the stories that I write, but everyone ends up talking about my trolling and not the cause that I was writing about. As a result, trolling ends up muzzling us on more ends than one. 
Neha Dixit

When the Hate Reaches Your Doorstep

People often say that it is just virtual gaali. But you never know when these online trolls could get together and get physical with you, because on 17 April, my house was fire-bombed. Anything could have happened. But, by the grace of god, nothing happened.
Patricia Mukhim, Editor, Shillong Times

When her house was fire-bombed after she received a threat on Twitter, Patricia Mukhim (Editor of the Shillong Times) found that her doubts about the violent nature of the trolls were laid to rest.

If they want to debate on issues, they should debate with me face-to-face and they should not get personal. There is a lengthy article written by some guy where he is speaking about my personal life and how I had a bad relationship with my Khasi husband. This is not done. Let’s stick to issues and let’s not get personal.
Patricial Mukhim

Bust Fake News and Get a Rape Threat For It

When The Hindu’s senior reporter, Vijaita Singh sought to bust fake news on the Gorakhpur hospital tragedy in 2017, she met with her first gory trolling experience.

Last year, several children died in a hospital in Gorakhpur. Misinformation was being spread rampantly on Twitter. I came across one such tweet, that said that ‘Dr Kafeel Khan was related to a former UP DGP and that is why no action was being taken against him by the government’. I spoke to the former DGP and asked him whether Dr Kafeel Khan was related to him. He said no. I quote-tweeted the malicious tweet and discredited the information. Soon after that, a barrage of rape threats started pouring on my timeline and I was quite frankly taken aback. 
Vijaita Singh, The Hindu

When the matter was taken to the police, they said that they didn’t understand Twitter.

So, I went to the police to file an FIR. It took a lot of connections to file one FIR. The police was like, ‘How is it a crime? Madam, why are you feeling so bad?’ It was only after I reached out to the commissioner of police that a complaint was registered. 
Vijaita Singh

However, a year has passed since she filled an FIR. Nothing has moved.


What to Do If You Are Being Abused Online?

Many victims of cyber crime do not come out in the open and register a complaint, and even if they do, they are often not taken seriously.

We spoke to cyber security expert Rakshit Tandon to find out what a person can do if s/he has faced any form of cyber crime. Here is what he had to say:

Rana Ayyub, Neha Dixit, Patricia Mukhim & Vijaita Singh tell us about  sustained online harassment they have faced.

Either the police is not equipped to deal with cases of online trolling or they brush it off as a ‘non-crime’. Senior Lawyer Rebecca John, however, believes that they have the wherewithal to make quick amends.

What is the police doing? They are so well equipped, but still I have not seen a single case where the person is arrested. They advise people to deactivate their accounts and try to put the blame on the woman. The same misogynist mentality that is seen during the rape cases, is seen in online harassment as well, and nothing will change if this mentality doesn’t change.
Rebecca John to The Quint for an earlier article

Women are told to remain silent and ignore their harasser – but doing this only empowers the harasser.

We have the law on our side, ladies. It is time we come out in the open and speak up.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Twitter Trolling   Rana Ayyub 

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