Part 2 of our series on social media strategies - how to create targets, discredit them and thereby push your agenda
If the first strategy was about sweeping generalisations, with the aid of half-truths, blatant lies, conspiracy theories and communally loaded issues, the second strategy is far more focused.
This strategy targets those who are influencers by profession and seeks to discredit them.
A carpet bombing approach is followed. Every tweet of these individuals is descended upon by hecklers – these could be genuine users or bots. What sets this strategy apart is the volume of responses that arrive.
The responses to any tweet – whether professional, personal, opinionated or even simply an inane observation by these professionals – are a mix of abuse, misogyny, communal and even simply insulting.
If the professional responds to the carpet bombing, it only gets more intense. And if they don’t, their credibility is dragged in the mud and they are defamed viciously.
The ultimate purpose though of this carpet bombing is to discredit the professional entirely.
Here are some prime examples of professionals who face this problem.
Sardesai is a well-known face on Indian English television media. Anchoring shows on India Today, he has been a prime time anchor and editor for close to three decades.
As is evident from his account, no matter what Sardesai tweets, a ton of handles descend on him like bricks – mocking, abusing and accusing him of being a “libtard”, “sickular” and now a newly coined Hinglish term “liberandu”.
Sardesai, however, managed to win the trolls over somewhat as his election prediction – that of a BJP sweep – came true. He is though, not likely to be the blue-eyed boy of his harassers anytime soon.
In fact, another right wing handle, Anand Ranganathan ( @ARanganathan72 ), an associate professor at the Special Centre for Molecular Medicine at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, began a campaign on Twitter to ensure that Sardesai did not become too chummy with the right wingers.
Sardesai… well, he blocked him and Ranganathan holds up a screenshot of the blocking as a badge of honour.
Here are some samples of tweets by Sardesai and the carpet bombing that follows.
“The anonymity that social media on the internet provide means that the attackers don’t disclose their identities but those they attack are almost always recognisable and real people,” said Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, senior journalist and author.
“Anonymity gives the troll the freedom to be nasty and vicious. In real life, such people may be mild-mannered but online they get transformed into indignant, aggressive and abusive individuals.”
Columnist with the Times of India, author and a journalist of over twenty years, Sagarika Ghose is another favourite target of the carpet bombers.
Ghose is largely targeted with misogyny and is carpet bombed with terms insulting to women.
Social media algorithms like those of Twitter, work as filters, segregating people into silos of similar opinions, without their knowledge.
“Social media is characterised by filter bubbles,” said Sashi Kumar Menon, senior journalist and chairperson of the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. “Anyone who has an opinion outside that bubble will be trolled. What is right or wrong doesn’t matter. If a hundred idiots say a crow is white and one guy says it is black, he will be trolled,” he explained.
Rana Ayyub, journalist and author, has the double whammy of being both a woman and Muslim. This invites not just misogyny but communal taunts and orders from carpet bombers to go back to Pakistan.
That Ayyub has taken on the power centres of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, is a key irritant for the carpet bombers.
She has also received multiple death threats and rape threats as a result of her work.
Even the most banal tweet from Ayyub – on cricket, for instance – draws a round of unconnected flak from her social media stalkers.
Pritish Nandy, author and filmmaker, is another professional who attracts the carpet bombers.
Nandy is viewed as a “liberal” and despite him tweeting on a variety of subjects, is carpet bombed with unrelated comments.
Hartosh Singh Bal, a senior journalist who works with The Caravan, is a professional who simply will not back down in the face of carpet bombing.
Bal gives as good as he gets and is viewed as deeply anti-BJP by his online harassers.
Of late though, his attackers appear to have dropped off. Why, is anyone’s guess.
Nidhi Razdan is a prime time anchor with NDTV. Her association with NDTV itself is cause for annoyance for the carpet bombers. NDTV is largely viewed as anti-BJP and anyone working with the channel is seen automatically as anti-BJP as a result.
Razdan is vocal about her opinions on Twitter and often engages with her attackers. This gives rise to more abuse and misogyny as the carpet bombers descend on her handle and attempt to discredit every tweet of hers.
Misogyny, whataboutery, half facts and slander is used by her online stalkers.
Bhupendra Chaubey is a senior anchor with CNN News18, an English channel and is a favourite of both sides of the fence.
Chaubey is roundly criticised by both right wing, left wing and liberal handles no matter what he tweets.
That he chooses to respond and react to criticism eggs on the carpet bombers.
“Social media provides freedom of expression,” said Kiruba Shankar, social media expert in Chennai.
“There is no way to stop this. The best thing one can do is to ignore them. Journalists being public personalities, they are easy targets and the only way to deal with this is to grow a thick skin. If one reacts, it will lead to more attention and more attacks,” he said.
Posting edited clips to show someone saying something absurd or abhorrent is another widely used strategy to trigger reactions and make the “accused” go blue in the face trying to prove their innocence and call out the mischief.
In effect, the narrative changes from whatever issue the person wants to raise, to defending one’s innocence. Rahul Gandhi has been a prime target of this.
The most recent case of this was seen when Yogendra Yadav’s press conference was edited and pushed mischievously on Twitter.
The shortened and edited clip did the rounds on Twitter where he was shown questioning the intelligence of Indian voters and calling them “idiots”. The video also made him appear to be saying that he wanted to hold the Indian voter by the collar for not listening to his appeals.
He received instant flak. Later Yogendra Yadav himself posted the full video which showed the actual conversation.
But the fake edited clip got 2987 retweets and 4228 likes and 2,91,000 views while the clarification tweet from YoYA got 361 retweets, 1471 likes and 19,700 views. Need we say more?
“Twitter has broken up into camps. It doesn’t convert people, it only bolsters their beliefs besides amplifying the voices of those who are best organised there,” said Anirudha Bahal, senior journalist and editor of Cobrapost.
“It has a very great chilling effect. It scares off well-meaning people. I would advise investigative journalists to be off Twitter to avoid being targeted,” he said.