Moral Police or Pervert? The Anatomy of an Online Troll


Moral Police or Pervert? The Anatomy of an Online Troll

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Internet trolls are like cockroaches – no matter how many you whack with your chappal, there’ll be some who will find a way to come crawling back. Blocking trolls works exactly like that, you can never get rid of them all.

TV actress Kavita Kaushik learnt this the hard way after she posted a photo of herself performing yoga asanas in a bikini, accompanied with a caption to shut down the trolls who had criticised her body earlier in the year. Back then it was a flab that upset people, but now her bikini bod has invited the wrath of the moral police, who believe social media operates under the same laws as Saudi Arabia, and women in revealing outfits are to be treated like criminals.

While the trolls who make it their business to stalk, harass, and threaten women online are all equally terrible excuses for humans, their modes of operation differ. The body-shamers are self-proclaimed fitness experts, who think that any woman who doesn’t look like Victoria’s Secret angel isn’t allowed to post photos. There’s the moral police, who’ll post about how crop-tops on women are undoing the fabric of “Indian culture” while never once stopping to consider that the women in their lives wear a sari-blouse every single day. And at the opposite end of the spectrum from the moral police (but no less toxic) are the lurid perverts, who usually hide behind fake accounts and anonymity to spam any female in sight with their mating call, “show bobs”. All three types are an ingredient in a foul-tasting, misogynistic soup which is unfortunately served up to most women brave enough to share their lives online.

Kavita Kaushik’s case proves that even celebrities aren’t spared the unique experience of online harassment – they actually make for easier targets. Kaushik is far from the only female celebrity to deal with these less-than-savoury residents of the internet. Aahana Kumra, Mandira Bedi, Esha Gupta… If having a shot every time a celebrity posted a bikini photo without attracting trolls was a drinking game, then the entire country would be drier than Gujarat.

With so many different types of trolls, one would hope that they spend all their energy squabbling among themselves, but that’s just wishful thinking. Though on paper, the moral police and the perverts should be at each other’s throats, in reality they get along just fine. It’s like a dystopian version of yin and yang – they’re two sides of the same coin. As we now know, the police and the pervert can often be the same person.

With the anonymity of the internet, trolls are able to finally find a vent for their sexual frustration.

Earlier this year, MTV ran a show called Troll Police, where celebrities were brought face-to-face with the trolls who had been cropping up on their social media channels with the regularity and annoyance of a software update reminder. Watching the episodes of Troll Police led to an interesting revelation: Several trolls often followed celebrities from multiple accounts, using some to give voice to their explicitly horny desires while others served as the voice of sanskaar. Contradictory though it may seem, today’s trolls are apparently both as “saint” and sex offender sharing a single body.

It needs to be seen to be believed. In an episode featuring Nora Fatehi, her troll starts out by complimenting her dancing skills.  But after his anonymous Instagram account is exposed, where he has shamed her for showing too much skin, he switches to telling her that his mother and sister would never dance like that. A similar scenario takes place with Mandira Bedi, whose troll joins her on stage in shaking his head at the nasty comments she receives online before going pale when a screenshot of his own comments is presented to him. Their identities are neatly compartmentalised into the “proper” and the perverse, and they switch between the two at a moment’s notice. Social media provides their schizoid personalities with the perfect playground.

With the anonymity of the internet, trolls are able to finally find a vent for their sexual frustration. This manifests in a plague of dummy accounts, where they allow their most explicit, offensive fantasies to shine through. However, their public accounts are reserved for being the upstanding agents of Indian culture they picture themselves as, probably because they aren’t happy with the Sri Ram Sene’s online efforts at this point.

Spare a thought for the inner conflict that these trolls must be going through when deciding which account to sign in to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with. It’s not easy being sleazy, especially when you also want to be sanctimonious. But until this inner turmoil leads to the trolls spontaneously combusting, there’s only one way to deal with, the way we always have: Don’t feed the trolls.