Bengaluru, (DHNS): Two BJP members of parliament have recruited people to troll their political opponents in Karnataka, Congress leader Ramya has said.
"A BJP MP from Mysore-Mandya and another, a Rajya Sabha member from Bengaluru, have hired agencies. They have also created various handles to start a new troll army," she told DH.
Ramya aka Divya Spandana heads the Congress social media and digital communication team. She is also a well-known movie star.
Trolling is again in the news: journalist Gauri Lankesh, assassinated last week, was a trenchant critic of the BJP, and was constantly trolled on social media.
Trolling refers to the posting of vicious, inflammatory and abusive comments on social media.
After Gauri's death, trolls posted conspiracy theories, some targeting women journalists, and wishing them the same fate as Gauri’s. One of the journalists, Sagarika Ghose, has filed a police complaint.
Some trolls misrepresented the name of Gauri's journal, Gauri Lankesh Partike, saying Patrike stood for Patrick, and she had opposed Hindutva politics because she was Christian.
Trolling is organised business, according to political insiders. "The man who called Gauri Lankesh 'b***h' is still being followed by prime minister Narendra Modi. He is the only leader in the world to follow handles giving rape and death threats," said Swati Chaturvedi, who has authored the book I Am a Troll: Inside the Secret World of the BJP's Digital Army.
According to Delhi-based Swati, the BJP has unleashed vicious trolls to browbeat those who express opinions against the party.
Rana Ayub, a journalist who has received death threats and abuse online, put part of blame on the Modi government. "The government is certainly emboldening people who are vicious," she said.
Is it free speech?
Na Vijayashankar, Bengaluru-based cyber expert, believes the revocation of Section 66A of the IT Act has resulted in trolls enjoying a free run.
"By scrapping it, the Supreme Court has given licence for trolling and cyber-bullying," Vijayashankar, cyber-security advisor to the Karnataka police, said.
Section 66A provided punishment for those posting offensive messages.
In March 2016, the Supreme Court struck down the section as unconstitutional, calling it a “draconian” provision curbing freedom of speech.
Vijayashankar agrees issuing death and rape threats can't be defended under the freedom of expression law. He said any political party running a vicious online campaign can be booked under conspiracy laws.
Amit Malviya, head of the BJP's IT cell, had in November tweeted, "Prahlad Joshi, BJP MP from Dharwad, gets Gouri Lankesh convicted in a defamation case. Hope other journos take note."
Last week, Malviya defended Modi for following trolls, saying the prime minister also followed opposition leaders.
She is jobless: Prathap Simha
Ramya refused to name the MPs she accused of trolling, but only said they were from Mysuru and Bengaluru.
Prathap Simha, who represents the Mysuru-Kodagu constituency in the Lok Sabha, said trolling was done only by jobless people.
“Ramya has no work in cinema or politics. As the AICC is well-aware of Ramya’s joblessness and her penchant for trolling, she has been made the chief of the Congress social media cell,” he said.
He claimed the BJP had no need for trolling as it is already in power at the Centre and in a majority of states.
Defence minister Nirmala Seetharaman, a Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka, is based in Delhi.
Rajeev Chandrashekar, BJP-supported independent MP from Bengaluru, denied he had hired any troll army.
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