Citizen politics in 140 characters

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The power of new age politics now lies in expressing your view, wrath or condolences in 140 characters. Governments, politicians and the common man alike have braced this change. Twitter, using trolls, has become the podium people across the world are using to voice political comments without waving the flag of being political. But the question remains as to how much of this subversive political expression helps the political system.
The US elections bathed in rumours of having been influenced by fake news saw the best of internet trolls. Donald Trump’s speeches were a golden basket of opportunity for Twitteratis to amalgamate wit and political furore. But the eventuality of the troll-passive furore is now staring at the world in the form of reversed abortion policy, Muslim ban and a leader who doesn’t believe in global warming.

Twitter buzzes with vigour every time a leader misquotes or strokes racism in his or her speech as a way of being politically correct, but trolls have emerged as a way of defying, challenging and correcting a leader’s statement in the most offensive way. The flavour of political trolls on Twitter has always been under the guise of playfulness or ‘anti-political-correctness’.

Political correctness reached a crescendo on February 7 when news of US Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren being silenced by Senate Majority leader Mitch McConell during a debate on attorney general Jeff Session’s nomination on the Senate floor broke out. The hashtag, #LetLizSpeak took twitter by storm as she was seen as a woman who was being silenced while reading a letter by a woman. Conell’s words on the floor,” she was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” only weaponized the outcry.

On the same day, Indian Twitter resonated with a similar outcry when a school principal in Mumbai linked women dressing like men with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Within two hours of the article being published by Huffington Post, #DressLikeAnIndianWoman saw women post their pictures fearless and tacitly.

Twitter troll flavours are not restricted to being politically correct only. There has now come a new genre of trolls called alt rights. Though a wide umbrella term used to include racist, neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic trolls, it particularly ballooned in lime-light with Trump. The playfulness and assumed jest in which they are posted also legitimizes hate trolls.

Such passive form of aggression on part of the public could be read as an absence of an efficient grievance addressing system. The public in general is still unclear about the steps that need to be taken in the physical world to show their disapproval. The action seems to have been lost in framing the 140 characters.

Controversial statements by leaders have often been turned around on Twitter to make the speaker victims of their own wrath. When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused his predecessor of being the fulcrum of scams during Congress regime by saying, “people should learn from Dr Singh how to bathe in bathroom wearing a raincoat”; Twitter exploded. It snowballed the humble garment to a national controversy. While some defended it, others abhorred it and a few turned it against the current PM thereby proving the more you jibe the uglier it gets.

The garb of playfulness that political trolls on twitter wear is the very reason why it has becomes impossible to falsify them. It gives any person in any corner of the world with internet connectivity the guise to offend without purpose. Very few trolls qualify as internet activism, they are mostly termed ‘slacktivism’. Trolls also come with a sense of deniability as millions tweet and retweet a trending hashtag, the source often unknown. Timely use of a hashtag places your message of hate or support before millions across the globe.
For the 317 million active users of Twitter, trolls when shared on conventional mediums like television and print, get encouraged and validated. In India, twitter trolls can barely be considered the pulse of the nation for only 23.2 millions uses the microblogging platform. Drawing a line between positive or smart trolls and dangerously provocative trolls is a tasked that should be performed by conventional media before they highlight or flash them on screens and in print. But the question remains as to if political trolls though done by a certain part of the population actually equates with political movement on ground. For at the end of the day, a party comes to power based on votes casted in favour and not trolls won in 140 characters.


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