In the world of social media, expressing a personal opinion on a controversial issue can turn out to be a risky business proposition. Keyur Joshi, the co-founder of ‘MakeMyTrip.com’, India’s leading online travel company, is learning this the hard way.

In November 2015, Aamir Khan’s comments about growing intolerance in the country sparked off a massive online boycott of Snapdeal. With calls to “#BoycottMakeMyTrip”, a similar systematic troll attack on MakeMyTrip.com is under way. The Commanders are taking their position and online lynch mobs are being mobilized to not only systematically uninstall and down-rate the App of the company, but also boycott its business.

This latest round of outrage got triggered off by two tweets of Joshi. Upset over the recent regulations on the sale of cattle, Joshi tweeted, “#Beefban I am a strong supporter of @narendramodi & a vegetarian for life. But I will now eat beef only in India to support freedom for food.” He followed it up with another tweet saying, “#Beefban if Hinduism takes away right to choice of food, I rather not be a Hindu. @narendramodi @BJP4India cannot decide what people eat”.

Keyur Joshi, makemytrip founder, tweets about beef

Let us trace how the initial spontaneous outrage gave way to a concerted troll attack with calls to boycott the company.

Joshi had put forward his point in strong language. Needless to say, his words caused immediate outrage in the right-wing ecosystem on Twitter. While some rushed to take screenshots of the tweet, others wrote to the company to reconfirm Joshi’s involvement with them. The sentence, “No reply in 6 hours would be considered affirmative” is a fine example of the urgency and the underlying tone.

Suresh Nakhua: Dear @makemytrip Can u pls confirm is handle @keyurjoshi_ of your Co-founder ? (No reply in 6 hours would be considered affirmative)

MakeMyTrip.com was quick to respond, saying “The views expressed by Mr.Joshi on Twitter are his personal thoughts & do not reflect the views of MMT. He is not a current employee of MMT”.

makemytrip: The views express by Keyur Joshi on Twitter are his personal thoughts & do not reflect the views of Makemytrip. He is not a current employee of Makemytrip.

Joshi is the co-founder of the company and is technically not an employee. On the company website, he is listed under “Board Directors and Advisors”. Not surprisingly, the response of the company was perceived as unsatisfactory. “Bluffs don’t work here. He is associated as ‘Board Director and / or Advisor’ as off now“, commented the Twitter user who had contacted the company to confirm his employment status.

Seeing the outrage building up, Keyur Joshi first tried to clarify that his opinion was limited to the addition of Buffaloes as non-tradable animals. Following this he posted an apology and withdrew his comments. He also deleted his initial tweets. Finally on seeing no signs of the backlash subsiding, he deactivated his twitter account.

Prakash Sharma: So the threat of backlash on @makemytrip made @KeyurJoshi_ do a quick somersault. RW has become evil!

Keyur Joshi: The views express in my tweets regarding #beefban were my personal thoughts only. I deeply regret any unintentional inconvenience or hurt cause to anybody. I sincerely apologize for this and withdraw my comments uncondtionally.

The outrage continued to build up as Joshi’s remarks were seen by some as “an insult to Hindu faith”. Soon the outrage gave way to calls for boycott, led by prominent right-wing accounts. The apology was not considered good enough and the focus shifted to hurting the company through an economic boycott.

Shefali Vaidya: Hmm, thoughts may be powerful, but an economic boycott is even more powerful. Not commenting on Keyur Joshi's dietary preference, but if he'd rather not be a Hindu, I'd rather not use makemytrip 4 my travel needs.

While for some, a boycott of the business, may have been a personal reaction, soon a mob was out to teach MakeMyTrip.com, a lesson. As one twitter user said on being reminded of Joshi’s apology, “We will also apologise after losses increase”.

Suresh Nakhua: Even we will apologise after loses increase.

With calls to “shut down” the company, the commanders of the online lynch mobs started taking their position.

Gaurav Pradhan: @KeyurJoshi_ has all freedom to eat BEEF in protest V have all my freedom to #BoycottMakeMyTrip in protest Let's SHUT down @makemytrip

The controversy over the tweets has now led to a systematic, well-coordinated attack on the company. The hashtag, #BoycottMakeMyTrip is being used to mobilize support. Images of cancellation of tickets or uninstalling the App are being posted online. The ratings of the App are being monitored and negative reviews have already started appearing.

negative reviews for makemytrip: Uninstalling yur app, because of your anti-hindu comment, I don't know about others, but you lost a big customer of yours. Just get lost, wait and watch how millions uninstall your app. And see how you lose your business without Hindus. Worst website/app to book flight n hotels. Hey Mr Keyur Joshi, U have freedom to insult Hindus by supporting beef food, then I have freedom to uninstall beef supporting dirty app and down rate it. I had many trips using makemytrip. Unless you give apology, this will be my last interaction with MMT.

The pattern that we see emerging above is similar to the one we have seen earlier in the Snapdeal and SnapChat boycott. Down-rating is a favorite strategy for trolls and has also been used in the case of book reviews of authors they see as opposed to their world view. Recent books of journalists, Barkha Dutt, Swati Chaturvedi and Rana Ayyub are some examples that you can read here.

On one hand India is out to establish a leading position in the digital world with a host of new initiatives, and on the other, its online mobs that also happen to be loyal to the Government are engaging in a systematic attack on businesses. Dissenting personal opinions are once again being shown their place.

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