Deeksha Sharma, a reporter at The Quint, became the target of mass online trolling, including death and rape threats, since September 14 after she put out a video criticising rapper Omprakash Mishra of ‘Bol Na Aunty Aau Kya’ fame.
Although The Quint, an online media platform, has registered a complaint with Noida Police’s Cyber Cell division, the trolling hasn’t stopped yet. While Sharma’s post titled: YouTube Takes Down Omprakash Mishra’s ‘Bol Na Aunty Aau Kya’, is still on the website, the media platform has voluntarily taken down the video due to security concerns.
The Quint has also written to the chief ministers of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, in addition to the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Smriti Irani, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik, to take action to prevent any untoward accident.
Newslaundry got in touch with Sharma to understand the trigger, timeline of events and what followed next.
NL: Could you describe the timeline of events?
DS: I got a mail from one of my colleagues who had spotted the video and asked if something could be done around it. My first idea was to write a piece about it. Not many people would have seen the video until it went viral on YouTube. I was on my shift and I felt the need to speak against it. Even as the copy was written and edited, one of my editors said we should do an accompanying video as well. We did the video. It went live and we started getting a lot of heat. It looked like similar people were commenting and the comments themselves were similar. When the video started to get a lot of comments, we tried to engage in a dialogue. I was responding to non-abusive criticism. Criticism that made sense. But I replied from my personal Facebook profile. I think that was the mistake that I made.
These people got the link to my profile and they started sending a lot of abuses, a lot of threat messages on my personal Facebook account.
NL: What was the reason for such a backlash? Did it get more stick because it was a video?
DS: Yes, I feel so. It wouldn’t have had so much of backlash if it were simply a text story. Other people have spoken against the song anyway. If it would have been compressed in a text piece, I don’t think it would have gotten so much attention.
NL: Were there any patterns to the messages or the accounts that the message were sent from?
DS: I get a sense that these people have a lot meme pages on Facebook. A lot of these pages link back to Omprakash’s page on FB. Also, if you go through the messages, you will find the kind of language used is quite similar. But there was no particular affiliation to any organisation as such. We have identified two particular meme pages, from where we got a lot of comments. I definitely feel it is an organised group of trolls who are doing this.
NL: While the video was undergoing editorial scrutiny, did the team foresee this level of trolling? Has this happened with any earlier posts?
DS: This is the last thing that anyone had thought of, that some random singer could cause so much harm. No, the trolls surprise us every time. When a post is put out and it is getting trolled, we think it is the maximum amount of trolling we can get. And this time, they took it to some other level.
NL: A particular comment on The Quint’s timeline states the reasons for disliking post. It included reasons such as the reporter threatening Mishra with a fake harassment suit and death threat. Do you think such comments are justified?
DS: If you listen to the song, you will see that every line of the song is like a threat. So what we did in our reply was to keep in mind that this person was trying to abuse and harass with each of his lines. On YouTube, you’ll find that none of his other videos have any likes or views. It is this slur and objectification of women because of which [the rap became so popular]. So, our reply was keeping that in mind.
NL: Doesn’t this speak more about the Indian audience?
DS: It is both about the audience and the artist. If you are an artist, you have a responsibility towards society. Like journalists do too. Being an artist with such a fan following, you need to have dignity in your response.
Sharma was referring to Mishra’s Facebook posts where he encourages his followers to raid Sharma’s profile on the social networking site.
DS: We were alarmed because these people were organising events in cities all across India. We don’t have to care about all kinds of videos. We were more concerned about the fact that you are taking it out on the streets, asking people to join in. That is what we were more concerned about.
A similar event was organised on September 11 in Delhi’s Connaught Place where a large number of people gathered to sing the rapper’s cringe-worthy song.
Invites for similar events were sent out in Karnataka and Mumbai as well. While the Mumbai event was cancelled by the organisers, the Bengaluru police warned legal action. “We will not encourage a Facebook event which includes sexist lyrics. So far we have not been approached by the organisers seeking permission for the event… If the organisers go ahead with the event we will take legal action,” T Suneel Kumar, Bengaluru police commissioner was quoted as saying by Deccan Herald.
NL: What was your first reaction when you realised it wasn’t another-day-at-work criticism?
DS: It was the first time I was receiving all these abuses. I was a little disconcerted at first. The kind of language that has been used, no one in their sane mind would do that. I did get a little alarmed and concerned about my security. Noida Police has ensured that they will protect me and put security in place for me.
My parents were very angry and they were concerned about my security. They wanted The Quint to take the video down, which the editors agreed with. We took it down voluntarily because the more people shared it, the more comments and abuses I would receive.
NL: Do you think such threats could instill hesitation or discourage journalists?
DS: I don’t think hesitation and discouragement are the right words. It is the journalists’ job to put things in the right light. However, we have to be a little careful and wary of the arguments that come at us.
I do believe that it could have been scripted in a different way but that would not have stopped the trolling. The trolling might have been slightly lesser if a woman wasn’t there in the video. When there is a woman in the video, there is an absolute need for society to pull her down. Even if I am in the right, I am being trolled because I am a woman. Yes, if a man had been in the video probably the amount of trolling and the kind of comments would have been a lot less.
As Sharma mentions, this isn’t the first incident where journalists have been trolled. Earlier, The Newsminute editor-in-chief Dhanya Rajendran was trolled online for tweeting that Shahrukh Khan’s movie was worse than Tamil hero Vijay’s film, Sura. Read more here.
NL: What are the next steps now from The Quint’s point of view and the police?
DS: Next step is that the person concerned is safe and all the legal procedures are followed. We, as a collective, stand by whatever was said in the video. I feel so happy that other media organisations feel the same about it. Feel the need to talk about it. We are also going to start with stories about other sexist songs as well. Because that has been a major criticism and it is a valid criticism. Everything aside, I hope people realise that it was for a good cause.
The police have said that whenever you go outside, let us know and we are there to protect you. Apart from that, they are identifying the people who have sent threat messages. And we will file an FIR once the police identify these people. Going forward, I want the trolling to be over but the dialogue to continue.
Meanwhile, Mishra’s video, which has been called out for its misogyny, has been taken down from the rapper’s official account by YouTube. Different versions of the video, nevertheless, can still be viewed on the platform. Incidentally, the video-sharing site’s strike against the ‘Aunty aau kya’ was not because of Sharma’s story, it was because of a copyright claim by Smokelime.