From polls to trolls: How Malayalam meme pages are influencing Kerala's election narrative

It is not uncommon to see some provocative or derogatory Malayalam political trolls triggering controversy and outrage in the state.
From polls to trolls: How Malayalam meme pages are influencing Kerala's election narrative

KOCHI: We live in such times that many people say it is memes that often lead them to news. These pithy internet posts can also play a subtle role in shaping views.

As the election campaigns are rising to a crescendo in Kerala, Malayalam troll pages have launched a blitzkrieg on social media with a heavy barrage of political memes.

Besides subjects such as art, entertainment, and sports, troll groups are now zooming in on political issues, controversies, misplaced statements of leaders, funny moments during campaigns, and so on.

And the ‘forward’ brigade – across age groups, from teenagers to grandmas – diligently make then ‘trend’ on WhatsApp and social media.

Troll Republic, International Chalu Union (ICU), and Troll Malayalam are some of the popular social media handles that regularly churn out political memes.

There are also several platforms dedicated to targeting particular political parties. Some of them operate to promote or degrade leaders or candidates.

And it is not uncommon to see some provocative or derogatory ones triggering controversy and outrage.

With attacks and counterattacks, the ‘poll scenario’ has turned into a ‘troll scenario’ on social media. Choice of visuals and wordings are vital in this battle. The payload that creates maximum impact – make one chuckle as well as mull over the message – goes viral.

So much so that, at times, a pesky little meme can deliver a political message more effectively than a politician’s hour-long speech.

Akhil Vadayar, an admin of the Troll Republic page, says elections are “exciting times”. “Political memes have been getting a greater reach these days.It’s peak time,” he says

He adds that his group discusses politics round the clock, but has a general policy of not “disgracing anyone or anything”.

“We don’t post sleazy content, or hit people below the belt,” adds Akhil, who works in the auto finance sector.

Troll Republic has about 75 members, including admins and moderators. As in the case of most troll groups, the members include employed professionals and students.

“There is a core group and secondary ones for day-to-day functioning of what people call the meme factory,” Akhil explains.

“Members create memes during their leisure time and post them first in our internal groups. As a team, we assess the content relevance, humour quotient, and impact potential. Ones that get the majority’s thumbs up are posted on our social media handles.”

Arun Das, who makes memes for various handles such as Troll Sangh, Cyber Troll, and Troll Congress, says “political content always has a huge audience”.

“Besides presenting a satirical take on current political issues, we also remind people about past incidents that people should bear in mind,” he adds.

Arun, too, is against malicious cyber attacks on individuals. “Cyber bullying is unacceptable. We are vigilant about not crossing the limits,” the IT professional adds.

Ashik Ayoobkhan, an admin of ICU, reveals that memes have become such effective tools of messaging that party leaders approach prominent troll groups to make posts in their favour.

“Most of the popular troll groups don’t accept unethical requests,” he says. “Those who do so can be easily identified through the change in the nature of their memes. That will affect credibility.”

Ashik, who is also an IT professional, says ICU has about six lakh followers. “Our memes are fact-checked and filtered at our ‘Page Factory’, which has 60 members. Once vetted, they are shared through our official page,” he explains.

“Meme-makers have to be abreast of the latest news and trends. About 95 per cent of us use our smartphones to create memes.”

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The New Indian Express