Gyges of the digital age!


I clearly remember my interview with Amitabh Dada( living legend of Varanasi), in a small office at the busy street of Lahurabir Varanasi. I asked him about online trolling, his reply was simple “गूंगा बोलना सीख रहा है ! “ “The mute are learning to speak”.

One sentence with so much depth! For the past three years I have been working on #SocialMedia literacy. I Have conducted around 100 workshops and interacted with more than 10,000 young minds on the topic, though something which I could never pin point is, the true reason for trolling? Or just the blatant aggression in cyber spaces.

Now this could be very personal, but prior to Facebook I had never known #SocialMedia, sure there were the Yahoo chat rooms, ICQ, AOL messenger, Orkut, but their experience was not so personal and neither so real. But ever since Facebook, #SocialMedia has become a fascination to the level that I actually earn my living using it.

Having said that, I must say that over the years I have been witness to and involved in some rather negative conversations, this could be in regard of my political views, or the fact that I believe all genders are equal, or just that my love for the land is a casual one. The critics have been rather harsh and they were people, who would never speak up in the real world.

On one hand I was annoyed(for obvious reasons), on the other surprised(on how come the most mumb individuals in person, turn into ferocious debaters online). While researching the web to make sense of trolling, I came across the Gyges Effect. (Remember the epic Hollywood trilogy #LordOfTheRings, its kinda retelling of the story of the Ring of Gyges). Gyges, has a ring which made him invisible, Greek philosopher Plato talks about it in his book Republic. Trolls also believe that they are invisible, and they cannot be taken to task for their online actions ( which is true to an extent).


Basically raising the question : “If we were shielded from the consequences of our actions, how would that change the way we act?”

For those of us who like it complicated here is goes:

“a loosening or complete abandonment of social restrictions and inhibitions that would otherwise be present in normal face-to-face interaction during interactions with others on the Internet. This effect is caused by many factors, including dissociative anonymity (or, more precisely, the appearance thereof), invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection, dissociative imagination, and minimization of authority. “

No target shooting

Now hold that thought and let us look into another psychological phenomenon called Reactance,” is a motivational reaction to offers, persons, rules, or regulations that threaten or eliminate specific behavioral freedoms. Reactance occurs when a person feels that someone or something is taking away his or her choices or limiting the range of alternatives.” This is also referred to as the boomerang effect. “

Simply put when our behavioral freedoms are threatened we respond aggressively to protect further threat, to the level that we might even take opposite position to restore our freedom.

Our present population of Netizens is a generation of Reactance, and why shouldn’t they be! Our democratic structures are immensely divided, for most topics we have an equally polarized sections on both sides of the spectrum. At any given time, half the population is not satisfied with the public policy decision and majority are not involved in direct decision making. This is the optimum scenario for Reactance.  

Lets observe the cyber stars, be it Wikileaks, Anonymous, Arab Spring activists, Aaron Scwartz or even Steve Jobs for that matter, all the idols of the digital world have been rebels to present power structures. Be it Governments or Cooperation’s we see an ever increase in an attempt to decrease our Digital freedoms. This could be in form of surveillance, or censorship or enforcement of draconian laws.


Now with this scenario, and our freedoms under threat, for the first time we have been provided with platforms to express our opinions. Of course it turns into a space to display Reactance, enhanced by the Gyges effect.

May be its time for policy makers to study trolls, to involve them in decision making, to turn the one way conversation into a dialogue. In the present #socialmedia age we can gather opinions prior to decision making.  

I know, I have tried to take on some complex theories in a simple blog, but still I believe its some food for thought, would love to know your views on it J.  




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