Senior journalist Swati Chaturvedi has been in the spotlight for her new book ‘I Am A Troll’ that promises to lift the veil off social media campaign of political parties. There have been headlines and controversies, based mainly on the statements made by a “reformed” troll who claims to have been working at the BJP social media team’s behest to attack those critical of the party (including allegedly putting pressure on an e-commerce company to drop an actor after statements he made). The former BJP IT cell head Arvind Gupta has denied that the party encouraged trolling, speaking to The Indian Express, and also clarifying on Twitter.

In a chat with  SheThePeople.TV, Chaturvedi says this was a book waiting to be written. 

“Frankly, since Twitter happened BJP had the first mover advantage. I just thought that it was a story waiting to be done and I am really surprised that nobody did it.”

Here are excerpts from our interview.

What led you to write your new book?

I have been personally attacked and rather than whining and retweeting, I filed an FIR but nothing happened. Then I decided to do my job –which as a journalist was — to investigate this.

Unfortunately when the party in power starts attacking its citizens, it becomes a huge issue; as which democracy would allow it? You are paying people and you are paying bots to attack citizens who differ from you or say negative things about (PM) Narendra Modi. So you know this to me is a very fundamental issue which is the reason I investigated it and I found enough substance to believe the reality that I brought out through my book.

I am a journalist and not a cheerleader of the government. My job is to bring to light what the government is seeking to hide 

What are your findings? What’s your focus on the current ruling party and freedom of speech in this book?

We seem to be having a situation where the BJP is completely dominated by Narendra Modi and this is not the BJP that was of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Name me one world leader who follows trolls. Narendra Modi follows only about 1500 people and he has given RTIs as replies which say that he manages his own account. So as a citizen of India, I want to ask the PM- why does he follow abusive trolls who give death threats and rape threats and who have been suspended by twitter? And there have been actual BJP ministers’ hashtags trending to get those accounts back.

The US has the freest speech laws in the world and every year hundreds of people are arrested every year if there are cases of open incitement and death threats. However in India, I have received death threats and rape threats and I have filed FIRs, but no action has been taken so it is pretty obvious that this is all state-sponsored.

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The political nature of trolling is something you’ve called out — an ex-troll (Sadhavi Khosla) claims that social media trolling against indian public figures was directly coordinated from inside the party (BJP)…But the party seems to be denying it? 

I don’t understand how can they deny it because we have given all the screenshots of that ex-troll, Sadhvi Khosla has shared with me and I have got hundreds more. Their denial is so pathetic and I am happy that only Arvind Gupta has been named who seems to be in a flap that he is making such ridiculous allegations.

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And more than anything, Narendra Modi still follows Sadhvi Khosla till date. Why is he following her if she has nothing to do with BJP? And she has no connection with the Congress party as has been alleged.

Tell us about how trolling affects especially women in the public eye?

It is clearly a rampant case of sexual harassment. It is a way of shutting up women which is why there are sexual innuendos. And what are rape threats? I mean the streets of India were not safe for women, you ensure that the online space is also not safe for them.

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Picture credit- Daily Mail