Tony Blair once described the British media as a "feral beast" but, after a 20-year career in journalism which includes The Statesman, Indian Express, Hindustan Times and Zee News, I found out the hard way it was the other way round on social media (SM).
Journalists specially women are hunted for sport, abused, slandered and hounded by trolls who hunt in hyena-like packs. The problem is that you have an opinion and are behaving like a journalist, not a cheerleader.
I was incredulous the first time I faced a lynch mob on Twitter. Because I refused to keep quiet when these anonymous paid handles called me, among the printable things, a "prostitute", I was branded an "abuser". I moved against this coward, anonymous user of a handle, now shut down, when he/she started a virulent campaign of slander and sexual harassment!
He/she had more than 40,000 followers and this campaign of intimidation began in February. The first tweet actually made me laugh since it claimed I was stalking an Special Protection Group (SPG) protectee for sex. Idiot journalist that I was who deals in facts, I thought it so hilarious that not even yawling lemmings would believe it!
I was wrong! It just did not stop. The bullying and slander escalated till I was being called a "nymphomaniac" and other anon troll handles joined in the fun saying I had spent nights with them.
That was a sleepless night and in the morning I realised that I could not live with this surgical dissection of my reputation. It's all I have.
I went to the police station with the screen shots and the Delhi Police promptly registered an FIR. Once that was done I could live with myself again. Within hours the handle deleted the tweets and has twice changed its name. All the other anon Lutyens handles which also deal in fact-free gossip went black. One deleted 90 per cent of its tweets.
The response I have got has restored my faith but I am in it for the long haul. I will depose before a magistrate and I want this anon coward behind bars. The Delhi Police has been prompt, Twitter less so.
Twitter has to realise that slander is not sport and women who are treated horrifically in Indian streets get similar treatment in the virtual world. Why not have a "swachh SM"? But, is it possible when you have paid trolls of political parties policing the social media? A famous anchor who is a dear friend was bullied off Twitter. Another who used to write a column for an international paper told me that the systematic trolling stopped after the column stopped.
These handles with egg or god DPs delight in following a code of abuse. So you get identical badly spelled abuse such as the now de-rigueur "presstitutes" and "news traders". Now the press has been replaced by the prosaic "pros" and we the "bazaru" media should live with it.
Why? All these "troll vahinis" who are upping the ante with every tweet need to be held to account.
I am all for freedom of expression, even abuse, but not for fact-free slander. I may say someone is "sycophantic" because of a specific action but I am not alluding to the person's sex life. The difference is crucial. I was called "anti-national", "traitor" and told to "go to Pakistan" when I merely tweeted asking "why a press conference for a secret op", adding that such ops were done earlier. I can live with all the Pakistan tour and travels and "burnol" that I am permanently offered but not slander.
The troll's identity is nearly established and if I am able to contribute to making social media in India be careful of sadomasochism, I would be thrilled. Besides, the "block" button invented by the wise ancient Indians in the days of yore is currently my best friend as the threats pour in.