The trolls on social media are Ravanas of present times - Hindustan Times
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The trolls on social media are Ravanas of present times

Oct 23, 2023 05:27 PM IST

Social media trolls are using incidents like hate crimes to spread fear and misinformation, undermining democratic values.

They have returned like a swarm of locusts. Wars, elections, riots, and natural calamities provide them with the power to expand into hydra-headed monsters. They lurk in the shadows, waiting for such upheavals to emerge. They will not stop until even a tiny spark becomes a major blaze.

Israel-Hamas War: Palestinians evacuate a wounded man following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City.(AP) PREMIUM
Israel-Hamas War: Palestinians evacuate a wounded man following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City.(AP)

I’m referring to trolls, social media’s “supari killers” (a slang term for contract killers).

How lethal are they? The following instance gives a picture: A six-year-old Palestinian-American child was found mutilated in Chicago on October 14. The landlord of the house his family lived in, Joseph Czuba, stabbed the child 26 times and also injured his mother who was trying to save him. According to the mother, Czuba vented communal and racial abuse during the attack. He has been charged with murder, attempt to murder, and hate crime. This murderous act has stunned Americans.

Their fear is justified. The rapid rise in hate crimes has undermined the democratic foundations of this great nation. In 2021 alone, hate crimes have risen by 11.6% in the US. Experts say such crimes could rise in the coming years.

The key reason for this is that some people start portraying incidents such as the killing by Czuba as a threat to a specific community. The worry of majoritarianism spreading has grown as they succeed in spreading confusion with their arguments.

The bloodshed in Gaza is giving them new impetus.

Let me give another example. A Chechen immigrant assassinated a schoolteacher in France last week. Officials believe that the state of affairs in Gaza has played a role in this tragedy. This has given trolls the room to tinker with facts to suit their needs. According to Pew Research, if the present rate of migration from West Asia to Europe continues, it might quadruple France’s Muslim population in the next 25-30 years. The hobgoblins of social media are citing the report to claim that refugees were accomplishing what the Arab warriors couldn’t in the Middle Ages. The whole of Europe is concerned about such falsification.

This edginess is fuelling neo-Nazism.

The Jews alone had suffered racial hatred under Hitler’s time, but now all foreign races and religions are subject to hatred in Europe and the West. Hindu temples in some Western countries, including Canada, have come under attack. Many Sikhs in America have been harmed by rising Islamophobia. People steeped in hatred lack the discernment to distinguish between a Sikh and an Arab.

All this is not to say that such hatred is exclusive to the “liberal” West. Even communist China is under its sway. In Beijing last week, a young man attacked an Israeli diplomat with a knife while shouting religious slogans. The reasons for the attack have not been publicly stated, although most people believe it is related to Israel’s conflict with Hamas.

Let us now return to our country.

Because hate crime is not specified in the Indian Penal Code, the National Crime Records Bureau does not collect data on it; nonetheless, this does not mean that hate crimes do not occur in our country. Attacks on alleged cow smugglers, minor occurrences arising from mutual conflicts, the murder of innocent persons in Udaipur or elsewhere, and deadly incidents in Jharkhand in the name of witchcraft are some examples of this. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has openly criticised it. Despite this, social media intruders are busy “working” from overseas. The assembly elections in five states as well as the general elections in a few months have given them a new opportunity.

The question is, how do you get rid of them?

Elections and conflict have provided them with an opportunity to sharpen their daggers, but our culture has provided us with a boon. Tomorrow is Vijay Dashami, when effigies of Ravana, a symbol of sin, will be burned in a symbolic cleansing. Similarly, we only need to introspect, gather courage and start rebutting social media trolls. It can be our new ritual.

While listening to the family elders and priests speak about Ram Rajya, the question, “How was Ram Rajya” must have crossed your mind several times. In a shloka, Valmiki, the poet-sage who composed Ramayana, observed, “Even the words thieves and robbers were not known in Ram Rajya. No one committed evil deeds, nor were elderly men carrying out the last rites of children.”

Last rites of children. I hope you got the point.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal

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