Things can escalate very quickly for a woman on social media. A few pleasant exchanges can result, without warning, in dick pics. A funny comment can attract personal insults from strangers. A photograph can result in rape threats.
Comedians have it particularly hard in India, a country famous for its inability to laugh at itself. And women comedians seem to trigger every negative impulse all at once.
Agrima Joshua, 30, who was been doing stand-up for four years, has had trolls respond to jokes by calling her a rice-bag convert; received rape threats in response to statements that rape jokes aren’t funny.
Joshua is in the public eye and has over 30,000 followers on Twitter, but the trolls also attack with ferocity women with no public profile, with small followings, posting photographs or updates meant for friends and family. A report released by the UK-based humanitarian organisation Plan International in October, titled Free To Be Online?, found that one in five girls and young women abandoned or reduced their use of social media platform after being targeted.
Joshua is determined to not let the trolls have the last laugh. Her hacks for dealing with the hate hinge on self-care, humour and, sometimes, confrontation. “At one point, I just began putting up a different picture of Fawad Khan every day. It felt like I was trolling the trolls; my posts were just as irrelevant and devoid of context,” she says.
She realises, she adds, that these threats could have real-world implications. So she is very careful to protect her private data. Twitter is also her audience, though, so she is determined she won’t be chased off it. “It’s is where I grew as a writer, where I test a lot of my material and get all kinds of helpful feedback,” she says.
Here then are her five top tips on tackling the trolls.
Pick your poison: I find it easier to deal with the problematic opinions of strangers on Instagram and Twitter than of friends on Facebook. So I am off Facebook. The last time I was there I kept seeing really atrocious comments from friends during the anti-CAA protests and it was just too disappointing.
Protect your information: I am very careful about what I share about my personal life. I guard my contact information and share it only with people I trust. I don’t share any photos of friends and family, I don’t even retweet friends.
Stop the blocking: Being blocked can become a badge of honour. I no longer hand these out. Instead, I mute abusive people. They can keep saying whatever they want but I won’t see it. Borrowing a thought from the activist Kanhaiya Kumar, I take it with a little humour that if someone is getting paid to post abuses, why rob them of their employment?
Don’t take yourself too seriously: Your best ideas could be taken out of context here. Engage only if you think it could be fruitful; if the person seems interested in offering constructive criticism. If it’s a blind attack, the golden rule is don’t respond. (Though it’s okay to respond sometimes if you really want to).
Careful with your wit: I can vouch for this as a comedian that you need to be really careful about out-of-context sarcasm. I once responded to a men’s rights activist arguing for rape jokes with a sarcastic comment that “yes, harassment of women is funny.” I can’t tell you how many times that tweet has been tossed back at me.