On her way to a demonstration this morning, activist Kavita Krishnan kindly made time to talk about the offensive messages directed at her while she was doing a live chat session for Rediff. The messages she had to field were extremely crude and it’s appalling that they got past a moderator. Krishnan is remarkably sanguine in face of verbal abuse. “You get called things like ‘commie’, ‘Muslim lover’ all the time,” she said blithely to me and pointed out that comments like that say more about the people making the comments. That’s a basic truth that trolls don’t seem to appreciate. Most of the time, when you’re being offensive to someone, you’re the one who sounds like a bigoted idiot. A few months ago, Nilanjana Roy and I were talking about the hateful comments she’d received for something she’d written. I remember her saying that the ones who spew random abuse don’t really bother her. They don’t make any impression. Then there are those who know how to wield language, who know when and how to punctuate menace into their messages. Those are the ones that become disturbing.
Krishnan’s troll wasn’t a wordsmith. He’s crude and brutal. The reason he lingers in memory is that he was allowed to engage with her in a chat that had been organised by Rediff. You’d think moderators wouldn’t allow someone who shows up with the handle “RAPIST”, but Rediff did and they let him stay even when he threatened Krishnan. She was the one who left the chat, rattled and disgusted. She then went online and recounted what she’d experienced on Twitter and Facebook. Rediff started pouting at this point. Initially, its representatives had promised they would send Krishnan a screen shot of the offensive section of the chat and file an FIR. After Krishnan spoke out online, they stopped responding to her.
Rediff published the transcript of the chat with Kavita Krishnan this evening, a few hours after I had posted this long piece on what happened during and directly after the chat.
Despite the ugly trolling she’s faced, Krishnan is unequivocally against any kind of increased Internet regulation that could be manipulated to curb free speech. “There’s many kinds of hate speech and it exists in the real and the virtual world, but that’s no reason to impose any kind of government regulation of the internet,” she said. “Whatever someone says, I believe they’re free to say it. The difference on the Internet is that anonymity offers security to the victimiser rather than the victim, which is the concern. It falls upon all of us, individually and collectively, to uphold the norms that will ensure security and encourage debate, rather than intimidation. That’s why all I’m asking for from Rediff is a public, formal apology. It’s just churlish to invite me to a chat, to do nothing when I’m exposed to this kind of intimidation and to not even enquire after my wellbeing afterwards.”
(That’s a bit from my post.)
When I was writing and even when my post was put online, Rediff was maintaining its silence. Krishnan knew nothing of what was going on. All she knew was that certain Rediff people were unhappy she’d criticised them on Twitter and put the editor’s official email online. Her stand was very clear: she wanted no regulation of comments, no curbs upon the internet. If people want to say hateful things, then the answer isn’t to restrain them, as far as Krishnan is concerned. It falls upon all of us, as a society, to uphold the norms that we believe are worth upholding.
I’m glad the Rediff transcript is online because Krishnan’s deftly makes her way through a number of thorny topics, including pornography, honour killings and, of course, rape. However, as far as Rediff’s behaviour towards Krishnan remains dodgy. The apology they’ve written into the introduction to the live chat is, at best, cagey. They say,
Unfortunately, a chatter from Denmark brought down the level of discussion — and there were hundreds of serious questions — by making a few offensive posts, for which we apologise to Ms Krishnan.
It’s as though the nationality of the chatter — them foreigners with their immoral looseness — somehow absolves Rediff of its moderating responsibilities. It’s also curious that Rediff is willing to edit the transcript for offensive content, fix the typos in its introduction (they’d referred to Kavita Krishnan as “Mr. Krishnan” at one point), but they won’t fix the typos in Krishnan’s answers. To see them in a virtual huddle, ready to point fingers at Krishnan, isn’t reassuring.