An Invitation to the Troll Army

“So, when my husband tweeted ‘J for Judiciary, J for Joke’, he was promptly chastised by a quick-witted troll, “A for Ashir, A for A**h*le.””

The other day, I woke up to an interesting headline in the Indian media about a court verdict. I casually turned to my husband and said, “J for Judiciary, J for Joke.”

I have moments of pristine lucidity at the bleary hours of the so-called ‘Brahmamuhurta’. According to Indian Ayurveda traditions, the mind is placid at this hour. Hence, we are at our creative best. Little did I know that my cryptic comment would find its way onto Twitter.

These blatant acts of plagiarism are nothing new in my home. The only time my husband becomes a keen listener is when he taps into my rants solely to fill in the 280 characters for a tweet. In the absence of a prenuptial non-disclosure agreement, I can only sigh.

So when my husband tweeted ‘J for Judiciary, J for Joke’, he was promptly chastised by a quick-witted troll, “A for Ashir, A for A**h*le”. The troll even took the time and effort of adding context to this expletive. He did some quick and dirty research on my husband’s life in Dubai. Guided by the creative burst brought on by Brahmamuhurta, the troll signed off his response with the Arabic expression “Wallah Habibi”.

“I got trolled,” my husband declared victoriously, as though he had scored a Dhoni-style World Cup clincher. He felt almost famous. His relentless effort to bait trolls on Twitter is often rewarded with uncharitable comments. But he is yet to provoke an entire troll army, as celebrities do. Perhaps someday he will have the honor of triggering the wrath of Xi Jinping’s troll army or the Indian troll sangathans.

We are all part of this, our politically opposable thumbs tapping away at great speeds to court any controversy on social media. The trap is laid for an unsuspecting foul-mouthed troll, who falls right into it, one cuss at a time. I’m not sure if we engage with trolls just for the name-calling. The coarse language and ideology in these verbal slugfests should be soul-crushing. But in reality, some of us chuckle like a troop of primates and play this addictive game, replying with the same vitriol. Those who find words onerous can enjoy the smattering of furious and offensive emojis. There is always a tweet for a tweet, which misses the point by a mile. It’s alright, because each time we are recharged with gratuitous attention, just as Sadak 2’s movie trailer was, with not just the 11 million dislikes, but also the 65 million views. The suspicion that Sadak 2 may have orchestrated the dislike campaign did come to me in passing.

We can follow in the footsteps of a long line of twitteratis who are loved and hated in equal measure. Elon Musk, who runs SpaceX by day and tweets by night, gets trolled for his unearthly, common sense defying ramblings. No wonder he gets to send a reusable rocket into space while everyone else waits to trash his next tweet. During his sleep-deprived graveyard-shift, the CEO’s tweets (some allegedly weed-infused) protest cannabis convictions and the ‘pedo guy’. But Musk is both the troll and the trolled. His tweets have been constantly attacked. His tweets have also gone after the likes of the Securities Exchange Commission and Tesla short sellers. Although Tesla investors cringe, his popularity continues to remain shatterproof, performing much better than his monstrous Cybertruck that failed such a test in a very public product demo.

I often wonder what it is like to be a career troll. Do they have committed mentors or zealous role models in the higher echelons of ‘trolldom’? Is it a bad day at work when they have no one to steamroll? Or when their fake video does not raise the decibel levels of the finger-wagging attendees of TV debates? Do trolls ever tire out of the sheer tedium of hating people with the kind of creative vigor that is reserved only for a love interest? Not if you are a bot. Now that Covid-19 is destroying jobs, trolls may also be worried about losing work to bots. So, they must work harder or try to join the global workforce, such as Xi Jinping’s 50-cent army—a legion of people that verbally lynch other human beings for half-dollar a post. There’s the Russian troll mafia to consider, which is constantly fiddling with American history as sweet revenge for the walkover in the Cold War. They needn’t know Russian, but should be good at creating memes that confuse the CIA.

The troll armies clearly have big fish to fry, which is why my husband will need to make some serious moves to grab their attention. Until then, the tit-for-tat with the odd troll will consume our weekends. And the bigger battles amongst troll armies will continue to be stage-managed by the big fish. Perhaps this is our comeuppance for substituting the real for the virtual.

Shalini Verma
Shalini Verma
Shalini Verma is CEO of PIVOT technologies, a Dubai-based cognitive innovation company. She is a weekly columnist for the Khaleej Times and a contributor to Forbes and The Quint. She has authored a self-help book ‘Pole Pole Kilimanjaro: A Little Extraordinary in an Ordinary Woman's Life’.