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Curbing the trolls

October 15, 2012

Some groups openly issue blood-curdling statements threatening opponents with terrible consequences, others exert pressure indirectly or make anonymous calls. But one party’s supporters have found a novel way of tackling criticism: they bully critics on social media sites or clog their inboxes with abusive emails. Although other parties too are guilty of this to some extent, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf supporters have honed this tactic into a distasteful art form. Recently, celebrated columnist Ataul Haq Qasmi wrote an angry article in Jang in which he accused the party’s supporters of launching vicious attacks using highly offensive language on him and making dire threats each time he wrote anything even mildly critical of PTI chief Imran Khan. He gave numerous examples of the kind of abusive messages he has received. Many of them were unprintable. He is not the only journalist or opinion-maker who has had to put up with abuse from what are known in the virtual world as ‘trolls’ – those who set out to provoke, threaten and hurl obscenities on the internet at anyone with dissenting views. A number of high profile TV anchors and journalists, including many writing for this paper, have been systematically targeted in recent months by these trolls whose aim seems to be to stifle all criticism and debate using the filthiest of language. PTI leaders react to the rise of this phenomenon in various ways. Some condemn the antics of the cyber warriors categorically, distancing themselves from them and urging their supporters to exercise restraint. Others deny these cyber-thugs have anything to do with the PTI and accuse their opponents of unleashing the trolls to discredit them. Yet others shrug off criticism and point to the youth and inexperience of their supporters and say it is difficult to control people so passionate about their cause.


While there may be truth in all these assertions, the pattern suggests that the PTI is indeed more prone than most others to this menace. There have been attempts at the party level to organise a cohesive group of young supporters and make them a strong lobbying force on the Internet to mould public opinion and challenge critics. The attacks do not seem merely random. It is no coincidence that many newspapers and individuals get attacked simultaneously by hundreds of PTI supporters using similar language when anything deemed offensive to their party or its leader is aired or printed. Some newspapers and websites have even complained of receiving warnings to back off or have their websites clogged. There is a pattern visible here that cannot be brushed off as a coincidence. Whatever the reason, it is time for the many sane voices within the party to take serious note of this trend as it risks creating a Frankenstein’s monster out of well-meaning attempts to organise. The need to refrain from such tactics cannot be overstressed. Apart from seriously undermining free, democratic debate in a society struggling to find its voice, attempts to stifle open discussion will only hurt the PTI’s cause in the long run. Many people sympathetic to the party are deterred by the behaviour of some of its undisciplined cadres. A party that champions the cause of young people and promises to bring about change and set healthy new traditions has everything to lose if it does not curb the unsavoury antics of some of its overzealous supporters.

The News, Editorial on 15 October:

Questions for Students:

1) Who are these people continuously abusing journalists?

2) Is this a big issue? If not then why leading newspapers are writing editorials on it?

3) Would this damage Imran Khan’s image?

Those of you who have not written on this topic, please write now. And those who have written, please include these points in your blogs.

From → For students

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