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‘You Slut!’: The Anonymous World of Twitter Misogyny

Trolls on Twitter are a sad reality. But trolling against women is particularly vicious and misogynistic. Read more. 

Updated
Women
4 min read
On Twitter, the nature of abuse against women has been found to be more vicious than against men. Is Twitter a misogynistic place? (Photo: iStockPhoto)

“You are a curse to the country!”

“Saali Randi!”

“Aaj ka bhaav kya hai?”

“You’re a pig!”

“Do you want to get raped?”

Now, imagine a constant flood of these words crashing down on you in successive waves. Vitriol, every time you log on to Twitter, or Facebook comments on your latest post. With every notification that pops up on your screen, a new insult, an even more inventive and vicious comment – insulting your career and dragging everyone you know into ugliness, for no apparent reason.

You are enraged but you refuse to bow down.

So, you take a deep breath. You type out what you wanted to say and hit ‘enter.’

And almost instantly, a notification pops up.

“Why didn’t your parents use a condom?”

Welcome to the nauseating, misogynistic and anonymous world of Indian Internet.

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Internet trolls have become a part, an indelible part, of our millennial, tech-savvy lives. Originally known as the mythical, ugly cave-dwelling creature; a ‘troll’ has almost become the modern-equivalent of an omnipresent, hard-to-ignore monster. And nowhere more so than on Twitter. If you are a public figure, a journalist or an actor, chances are that with everything you say on the Internet, there will be more brickbats waiting for you than bouquets.

However, if you are a woman, statistically the brickbats will be harsher and more vicious.

Guardian surveyed 70 million comments left on its site since 2006, and compiled a list of its ten most abused writers. Eight were women, and after analyzing the data the survey found that articles written by women got more abusive comments than those written by men.

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In the Indian context, the story is not much different. While troll armies on the Internet (and specifically, Twitter) attack irrespective of gender of the target; the nature of the attack is implicitly gendered.

A recent example is the vicious and nauseating abuse faced by Barkha Dutt when she tweeted a condolence message to Congress leader Digvijay Singh for his daughter’s demise. The comments ranged from casting aspersions on Dutt’s intentions, to her sexual activities, and even personal slander against Singh’s wife.

It is interesting to note here, that even when the abuse is directed against a man, the syntax of the abuse focuses on the women – his daughter or sister or wife.

Online abuse against women is inherently gendered because the language used in the abuse is so; inevitably directed against the body, physical features and sexualisation of women. You could be a respected journalist, an intelligent film producer or an author, it doesn’t matter. It is secondary to your identity of being first and foremost, a woman.
Just like any other form of abuse – physical, sexual or verbal – online abuse also has an impact on its victims leading to a variety of psychological traumas. (Photo: iStockPhoto)
Just like any other form of abuse – physical, sexual or verbal – online abuse also has an impact on its victims leading to a variety of psychological traumas. (Photo: iStockPhoto)
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And not just any woman. But an opinionated woman.

To examine the contours of online abuse against women, especially on Twitter, I compiled a list of the six most trolled women on the site, along with their most vicious abuses – an unenviable, nauseating task which led to certain theorising about the psyche of a troll, but that’s a separate discussion.

Unsurprisingly, almost all the women on my list were either journalists, actors or authors. Visible public figures, with sometimes controversial views, but always opinionated and not among those who would easily bow down to the faceless, venomous troll army.

Thus, a troll who is abusing a woman on the Internet, isn’t simply a troll. It is a manifestation of the thought that a woman shouldn’t be in the public space, expressing an opinion and declaring herself as a free-thinking individual. And since these days the Internet is the new ‘public commons’, if a woman incidentally wanders there and says something that isn’t widely agreed upon, the backlash is immediate.

“Arre, how dare she? Who are you? You go back, don’t get into all these things!”

However, the voice abusing women for their opinions has always existed through centuries and cultures. What amplifies the ‘troll’ voice in an age dominated by Facebook and Twitter, is the readily available cloak of anonymity. It becomes easier to call someone a ‘whore’ when you don’t have to reveal your identity and engage with the aforementioned ‘whore’.

And it is these anonymous trolls who are swarming Twitter, to the extent that many have decided to leave the micro-blogging platform rather than engage with, on a daily basis, the venom and vitriol spewed by trolls on the site.

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Twitter trolls are usually anonymous (or they assume a fake identity.) Anonymity enables the troll to say whatever he or she wants, without either fear of repercussions or empathy against the victim. (Photo: iStockPhoto)
Twitter trolls are usually anonymous (or they assume a fake identity.) Anonymity enables the troll to say whatever he or she wants, without either fear of repercussions or empathy against the victim. (Photo: iStockPhoto)

To hope for Twitter to take action against anonymous accounts on its website is to stray dangerously close to a raging and highly complex debate on freedom of expression on the Internet.

But, as regular users of Twitter have had enough of trolls on the site and their irrational logic, here’s a suggestion that I hope the trolls might consider if they ever get time away from the laptop monitor, where I am sure they are busy launching their onslaughts against unsuspecting and mostly uncaring, victims:

If you can’t say what you troll to someone in real life, and not just to your mothers and sisters, but just as civilised human beings, then:

Don’t. Say. It. On. The. Internet.

It’s simple, really.

(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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