When I met Rana Ayyub in Delhi, she was deeply disturbed. She had come to Delhi to receive the Outlook Social Media Youth Icon of The Year award. Author of the book The Gujarat Files, which investigates the 2002 Gujarat riots, Ayyub was trying her best to steel herself and ignore the impact of a vicious brigade of rightwing trolls, who have been harassing and threatening her online.
Today, on World Press Freedom Day, it’s important to discuss the threats and mental-physical trauma journalists are facing. The sustained online trolling of Rana Ayyub or NDTV journalist Ravish Kumar is not a new phenomenon, but it is becoming worse. Social media attacks on them have become brutal and this is having an impact on their mental health and on their families.
Ayyub is particularly disturbed by a morphed video of her. It has hit her hard. This was a new weapon of destruction used by these “Sanghi trolls”, said Rana, adding that "They are masters in character assassination. They are afraid of our fighting spirit, they attack below the belt. I know it is easy to say that we should not be adversely affected by these, but it hurts and hurts badly. It spoils so many creative days."
This is the trauma any victim of targeted fake news, particularly including morphed videos, undergoes. These troll armies, with their criminal-killer instinct are politically trained and aimed to destroy the peace. When they target women online, they use brutal sexist words. Threats of gang rape, shoving rods inside vaginas are being openly issued against women journalists by troll brigades on Twitter. Now morphed porn videos are the latest weapon they have started using on Twitter, so that within a few minutes, these videos reach millions.
This troll army has full political-administrative patronage. They have a clear-cut political understanding and support system. Perhaps that’s why no one is being punished. No serious probe is being conducted, no one is in jail. These troll armies are free to create havoc, unleash brutal attacks on right to dignity and right to liberty. They have a nasty design to control media persons and establish dictatorship. Journalists like Rana Ayyub, who have written extensively exposing their political heroes, are on top of their hit list…As Ayyub is fearless, and Muslim, she is a daily target of right-wing propaganda. Her expose in Tehelka magazine can never be forgotten by BJP President Amit Shah and his Party.
Rana, though, will not be silenced. She tweeted from Ghana, “The support from various national and international human rights, journalism groups has helped me get back on my feet.” Rana Ayyub has received support from national and international media associations, journalist unions like PCI, IWPC, IWMF, PEN, South India Centre, IFJ, Network of Women in Media (NWIM), DUJ, and others
Rana and her lawyer Vrinda Grover, who has reputation of being a daring and tireless advocate, have filed a criminal complaint under the IPC and IT act at the Saket Police station in Delhi, in response to the morphed videos, images and fake tweets. This Rana did at the risk of placing all the material in public domain.
Grover said that those who are daring to speak the truth are being attacked so that they will be silenced. Many people don’t want to file police complaints as they fear that the malign content will gain more publicity. They don’t want to increase their stress further. This is what the attackers rely on.
The increase of such targetting of Indian journalists reflects in India’s position in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index for 2018. India has fallen two places to 138 out of 180 countries.