Union minister Maneka Gandhi’s plan to tackle online trolls has run into some unexpected offline turbulence even before it takes off, from within the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Many in BJP and RSS are uncomfortable with a helpline to check cyber bullying as the decision was apparently taken without internal consultations amid fears that such moves could be seen as government overreach, sources said.
Foot soldiers of the two outfits also say the government playing net nanny might clip the wings of supporters who put up a “spirited defence” of the prime minister and the government. “They could face problems,” said a senior BJP functionary.
Social media users often blame armies of RSS and BJP supporters of bullying and intimating anyone opposed to government policies. Many say the trolls especially target female users, threatening them with violence and even rape.
“Who will play judge, who will define trolling; and why should we assume only women are trolled?” said the BJP leader.
Gandhi’s initiatives of tackling online trolling and setting up of a dedicated helpline and team to deal with such bullying has received widespread applause.
Last month, the women and child development minister started a hashtag #IAmTrolledHelp for women who are bullied, abused and stalked online and has asked people to complain on her personal email address — firstname.lastname@example.org.
The BJP relies heavily on social media outreach for electioneering and pulled out all stops to canvass for votes online during the 2014 general elections and subsequent state assembly polls.
But when asked if the party gives its vast legions of social media supporters a list of online do’s and don’ts, the functionary said “cyber hygiene is discussed with party members only.”
Many within the party feel this may be seen as overreaching by the government that should let platforms such as Twitter and Facebook strengthen their internal mechanisms to check bullying and trolling instead of interfering.
“The party is firm that there should be no abuse or intimidation on platforms such as Twitter, but there is an overwhelming concern over the implications of the government stepping in. It is for the platforms to take action against abuse, or else the mandate lies with law-enforcement agencies,” said a senior party functionary.
He referred to the debate over section 66A of the IT Act, which punished people sending offensive messages over communications services but was struck down by the Supreme Court after mounting complaints of government misuse.
“There was brouhaha over government’s control on social media. With this helpline, there is a danger of wading into the same territory,” he said.
A section of the party feels the absence of a clear definition of a troll means even a disagreement could be perceived as trolling.
“If someone is reported as a troll on the helpline, and the account suspended, it will be perceived as government interference and control,” the functionary said.
Gandhi had said complaints of online bullying and trolling will be forwarded to National Commission for Women for necessary action but the women’s body has also indicated that policing the net will not be easy.