By Deepak Gopalakrishnan Oct. 18, 2020
I recently wrote a Facebook post about the Tanishq row, and had to take it down because of the trolling I received. It made me wonder about the hollowness of asking a brand or a celebrity to take a stand – especially when the mob could be right outside your door.
Earlier this week, I had an interesting experience. I wrote a long Facebook post about the Tanishq ad, making a larger point about how discourse and debate had made way for trolling and threats. In the post, I spoke about how a Supreme court advocate essentially threatened a brand manager from the company simply because he had a Muslim name, assuming he spread the “toxic” idea of the campaign. I wrote about how astonished, yet unsurprised, I was that the hate had come so close – not in some far-flung corner of the country, but to contacts we might have one degree of separation from.
Being someone who is critical of the government (and indeed, of all the ones before it), I’ve often written such posts in the past, which tend to get words of appreciation and approval among my small circle of fellow libtards. The best responses I get are when people share what I write, saying I’ve managed to sum up their thoughts better and hoping that people on the fence seeing it, would see reason.
This particular post though struck quite the chord: I got 1,100 combined shares on Facebook and Twitter. But you know what they say about opinion writing: With great virality comes great trolling.
Predictably, as the number of shares increased, the percentage of such responses got higher. Comments ranged from the normal “anti-national” and “retard”, to more topical ones like “what about ___ event”. Admittedly, this was low-quality trolling, the worst of which questioned my sanity and writing skills – neither of which seemed to deter my editors at Arré.
It was only when a high-ranking executive at a well-known right-wing publication shared my post with a less-than-flattering addendum, did I feel the need to take the post down. And I realised the delicious irony of it: I was taking down a post about a company that had to take down an ad. But both of us were doing it for the same reasons: Self-preservation. I knew that the relatively erudite criticism by the aforementioned executive was three steps away from colourful DMs, and five away from a mob showing up outside my home.
Should I have worried?
I was probably over-reacting. I am sure journalists get way more for fair reporting, and women get way, WAY more for merely existing (you only have to follow a journalist who also happens to be a woman to get an idea). But still, it was enough to spook me. I knew I was under no actual threat, but simply the mere tension of checking every five minutes to make sure I was, was getting to be too much, so I deleted all traces of it from the internet.
Not only did I understand why Tanishq took their ad down, but could even empathise.
The whole experience left me surprisingly drained. Even though I realistically knew I was in no danger per se, just the fact that I could be – this is a country where some kids have been dragged to jail over simply liking a Facebook post – kept me on tenterhooks enough. In a follow-up post saying I had taken it down, most people empathised, but one chap (whose profile clearly showed his affiliation) came in asking where he could see the original. It felt like he was sneering. Taunting. Knowing well the reasons why I had taken it down, but wanting to see it, almost telling me, “dare you not write like that while we’re in power, buddy”. It was chilling, and I felt a sense of helplessness – being bullied by 10-follower anonymous accounts purely because they “were in power”.
Not only did I understand why Tanishq took their ad down, but could even empathise – for the safety of their employee, one who was not even involved in the making of the ad in the first place (I have this from good authority). If you don’t believe me, the attack on certain Tanishq outlets the very next day should underscore my point.
There’s no “incentive” to take a stand
I also then began to wonder about the trade-off made to take a stance at all. Be it a company, be it a celebrity (remember Deepika Padukone circa CAA protests?), be it a stand-up comedian (remember Agrima Joshua recently?) when there are so many other avenues. I am a nobody, and for each “learn to write better” tweet I get, they would be getting thousands, and that too outright threats. I just wondered how much of the life of an opinionated celebrity would go in just dealing with these threats or the trauma it brought.
Given the mental, physical and professional risks, the incentive to take a stand reduces day by day.
Check out the comments section of anyone – friend, celeb, media outlet – who has shared the Tanishq ad on Facebook or tried to have a civil discussion about it on Twitter. I’ll wait. The results are not heartening.
If a company as powerful and respected as Tanishq had to take down its ad, the message this sends to other companies, and even individuals, is immense.
If today, a post by an advocate of the highest land in the country can end up doxxing a Muslim employee after digging up his LinkedIn profile, we have a lot to fear for. Especially since said employee doesn’t even work in the team that made the Tanishq ad, and the death threats he and his family received were done on the basis of one heck of an assumption. While the law might eventually save him, just think about the trauma he must have gone through. And this is exactly the problem. The “logical whataboutery” I receive from an executive today could very easily devolve into name-calling violence tomorrow. Especially when we can be sure that the law won’t be on our side if it comes to that. I would be happy to be proven otherwise, but I don’t see it.
I think the biggest tragedy of this quashed dissent is the increasing silence of the well-meaning middle-class – for self-preservation rather than apathy. If a company as powerful and respected as Tanishq had to take down its ad, the message this sends to other companies, and even individuals, is immense.
Ironically, for me, the most hard-hitting response I got was not from trolls, but by friends who DMed me to say: “Thank you for writing that, it took courage to do that”. If it takes courage to write an article about basic human rights, then we’re a long, long way away from the superpower we were supposed to be this year.
Deepak 'Chuck' Gopalakrishnan is a freelance writer and marketing guy who lives in Mumbai. He runs two podcasts (Simblified, The Origin Of Things) and a satire newsletter (The Third Slip). He used to work in advertising until his soul couldn't take it anymore, and now spends all his time annoying his cats, listening to prog-metal, cycling and writing bios of himself in third person. He has an irrational love for cold water and Tabasco.