Swati Chaturvedi’s new book, “I am a troll” created quite an uproar when it was announced few days ago and is ready to buy online. This is not surprising as the book sets out to expose the secret world of BJP’s digital army. Sadhavi Khosla, an ex-BJP volunteer, upset by the organised trolling of public figures by the BJP IT cell turned whistleblower and provided important insights to Chaturvedi for the book. BJP IT cell has since denied any association with Khosla and Arvind Gupta of BJP put out a set of six tweets which he said was to “set the record straight”
Interestingly Khosla is one of the select few followed by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi on Twitter. While Modi has close to 26M followers, he only follows a select group of 1500, consisting of heads of countries, government departments, ministers, MPs, political opponents, journalists & other prominent people and BJP social media team members & their associates including some abusive trolls. This leads us to the question – If Khosla was not a part of BJP social media cell as claimed by Gupta, why would Modi follow her on Twitter? It also casts doubts on Gupta’s claim disassociating BJP from Khosla. As an insider, her revelations about organised trolling of public figures under instructions from the BJP IT cell, are disturbing though not entirely surprising.
The claims made in the book about the online abuse of opponents by India’s ruling party were the subject of an article in The Guardian. It was followed by several positive reviews and Swati Chaturvedi was commended for taking on BJP’s troll machinery. “The BJP trolls who mouth the filthiest abuses on Modi critics are not the lunatic fringe of Bhakts. They are officially promoted by Modi & BJP” tweeted Prashant Bhushan. Vir Sanghvi reviewed the book in Business Standard with a caption “BJPs Online Bully-Boys”.
However it was not all about positive reviews and congratulatory messages. No sooner than Swati Chaturvedi’s book was announced, trolls attacked her and Khosla, digging out their old tweets and questioning their motives. The attack was personal. Many, including some of the reputed right wing handles have since been busy trying to discredit both Khosla and Chaturvedi and extending their argument to say that the book cannot be taken seriously. Among the information being circulated on Twitter by right wing handles are screenshots of Chaturvedi’s old tweets and unverified stories about a fake interview conducted by her in the past. Similarly pictures of Khosla with Congress leaders are doing the rounds. Credibility and motives of both the author and the whistleblower are being questioned.
At the same time, a spate of negative reviews have started to appear on Amazon. At the time of writing this piece, out of a total of 85 ratings, there were 45 one-star ratings, many of them appearing even before it was humanly possible for anyone to download the book and read it.
A quick glance of the one-star reviews reveals an interesting pattern:
- They have not purchased the book through Amazon, which by itself is fine because the online version of the book is also available on another site
- Negative comments are mostly personal remarks, questioning the credibility the author rather than commenting on the book itself. One review actually says “gave her one-star because I used to follow her on Twitter once…..and got blocked”. Another one states, “the writer herself is an abusive troll”
- The repetitive message is that the book is a bunch of lies and a waste of time
- The only other books a few of these so-called reviewers have reviewed before are those of Barkha Dutt, Rana Ayyub, Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghose and Kanhaiyya Kumar. No points for guessing how many stars they awarded and the comments they left behind. One such serial reviewer is pictured below.
Here are larger images in a slide show showing fake reviews by user R Sanjay Rated as one of the top 500 reviewers, he has given a negative review to any book by an author seen as critical of BJP government. Voices critical of the BJP are frequent targets of troll attacks. Journalists, particularly female journalists who are seen as critical of the BJP government bear the brunt of this attack.
[hr] Why are people launching personal attacks and leaving fake reviews for the book? Is this once again a coordinated troll attack? These are questions we don’t have definite answers to. What we do know is that the book exposes organised abusive trolling under the guidance of BJP IT cell. It raises the issue of the abusive handles that are followed on Twitter by Prime Minister Modi himself.
The trolls and their apologists are upset. And by attacking the book and its author, they are doing her a service by proving her right about internet trolls.