Monday, March 30, 2015

Trolls

Internet trollsIt’s finally happened. The trolls have got my goat. Got my goat and burned down the bridge.

I’ve written about this subject before but over the past week there have been some explicit examples making the headlines. The trolls are everywhere like an epidemic and (unless something is done to neutralize them) as their contagion spreads we will all find ourselves under permanent curfew.

Everybody will be (over)familiar with the Jeremy Clarkson debacle. As I’ve said elsewhere it proves the old adage true: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; give him a steak and you won’t get your nose punched and end up in A&E. Everyone has had an opinion on this. And everybody has voiced it. But, really, did any of us have a right? We weren’t there. We weren’t involved. For a long time nobody knew the facts and yet everybody was spouting forth about what they thought ought to happen, what punitive measures ought to be taken. 

But it had eff all to do with us. Why did it impinge on our lives so much?

But that’s a side issue. My main issue with it all is the amount of online abuse the hapless producer received since the incident became public “knowledge”. Not enough that he got whalloped by a workmate, no, now every Top Gear fan in the world is giving him excoriating grief for being so inconsiderate as to have been the victim of workplace violence in the first place. Even Jeremy Clarkson himself has had to explicitly ask people to lay off the poor producer as he has DONE NOTHING WRONG!

But it gets worse.

Now BBC bigwig, Tony Hall, who headed the enquiry that decided not to renew Jeremy Clarkson’s contract is under police protection because he has subsequently received death threats online.

Really? It’s a car show! Grow up, people!

I am becoming increasingly sickened with the amount of snide, cowardly trolling that exists and proliferates online. Give someone anonymity and they suddenly find endless seams of courage to proclaim the most bigoted, hate-filled, misinformed, kneejerk rubbish seen this side of Hitler’s private diary. Of course, ask them to put their name to it and it all goes quiet. They wouldn’t say boo to a goose. They want people to think they’re decent and reasonable, you see. They like to hide their hate under a bushel.

Not all, of course. There’s always identifiable trolls like Katie Hopkins who this weekend decided she had the perfect right to trash someone else’s happiness and spread yet more bile. Yesterday, Danny Dyer (I admit, I’m not a fan but fair-dos) announced to the world that he was getting engaged to be married. When Hopkins learned that it was Danny’s girlfriend who had done the proposing she spouted forth an unrelenting barrage of insults and innuendo, accusing him of being emasculated and not man enough to say no. Really? Really?

What possible right did this self-publicising monster think she had to offer any kind of opinion at all on Dyer’s announcement? Oh he announced it on Twitter so that makes it fair game? No. No, I don’t think it does. This is not open season, folks. Making an announcement online is no different than doing it in person down the pub, supermarket or bingo hall. As other commentators have remarked: if you wouldn’t say it in real life, don’t say it online. Don’t try and justify it by saying online announcements are public property.

At the end of the day we are each responsible for what comes out of our mouths and keyboards. If it is vile, bilious and vitriolic then the responsibility for that lies with us, not with the target. The fault lies within not without.

To cause grief seems to have become some kind of internet badge that people feel they have to earn. Seems to me you have to sell any kind of  basic human decency to achieve it. Those that applaud the trolls and are entertained by it are as bad as the trolls themselves.

What worries me is the effect all this will have on our freedoms. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression; the very free nature of the internet itself.

The thought police are already closing in. They’re already listening. The list of watchwords grows each week. The list of targets too. They’re tracing us, bugging us, like something out of The Matrix. And the worst thing is, although I want us all to retain our freedoms, I also want all these anonymous (and not so anonymous) trolls to have their refuges exposed. To have their shields ripped away so we can all see who and what they are – small, soft white maggots squirming in the harsh light of day. I want them to be made accountable for every word and utterance.

Because freedom of speech only works when we exercise freedom of thought and realize the right to say something does not always mean it should be said. If it causes harm for no good reason (and deflecting ennui is no good reason at all) then you really ought to keep silent. But it seems we cannot police ourselves. There are too many idiots letting their tongues and thoughts run amuck because stupidtroll@48 thinks they won’t ever be winkled out or because @KTHopkins knows she will be paid very well by advertisers and sponsors when her latest verbal vomit hits the tabloids.

The world is all wrong. It is starting to stink of a fast spreading rot. And this malaise will be fuel to those who want to place tighter controls on the internet, on what we say and what information we are able to access. It is a small step on the journey to somewhere very bad indeed. Very bad. And worst of all, this disease is all around us. We are all mired in it. Our society is built on it.

You have to understand, you see, it’s not bridges that trolls choose to live under; it’s stones.


Addendum


Block The Trolls


So how do we remedy this situation without imposing on other people’s entitlement to free speech?

One idea I’ve had is to exercise the right not to listen. I’d like everyone to join me in blocking the trolls. It’s easy enough to block people on Twitter (using their Twitter tags) and Facebook so let’s be more proactive about doing so. I’d like to see a mass blocking of all anonymous trolls and self-aggrandising attention seekers like Katie Hopkins. Don’t listen to these people, don’t engage with them, don’t let yourself be polluted by entering into a discourse with them. Just block them and then pass the word. Pass onto others the IDs of trolls and encourage an act of global blocking. Obviously use your own powers of discernment – take a look at the profiles pages of people first before you block them; it will give you a clear idea of the type of things they post. Don’t block people blindly or the very act of blocking becomes another way to troll. On Twitter please use the hashtag #blockthetrolls. If we starve these people of media oxgyen maybe, just maybe, they’ll either grow up or go away…



35 comments:

The bike shed said...

Well said.

There is more we can do than to block them, which is to become impervious to them in ourselves - I actually do know who K Hopkins is (rare for me) but frankly, she's irrelevant.

Other suggestions: don't read the news, don't watch or listen to the news - and be deeply, deeply sceptical of any form of journalism.

Steve said...

The Bike Shed: I haven't bought a newspaper in 20 years. I rarely watch news channels and only read the headlines on the BBC news web site... and even then I am looking for agendas. It's an appalling world when we must be sceptical and paranoid about our sources of information.

Gorilla Bananas said...

It's the girlfriend who was insulted. She's been told she proposed to a eunuch who was too cowardly to turn her down. Actually, it would be very brave of a eunuch to accept a marriage proposal and hope that something will pop up to save the day. Katie Hopkins (whoever she is) is a halfwit.

John Gray said...

Its up to us all to prevent trolls from gaining power
Simple as

Vicky said...

I can't believe all the bloody media Jeremy Clarkson and co are getting.... as you said it is only a car show!!

the fly in the web said...

For news I have to scour the blogs...at least that way I avoid the comments columns of the on line press...full of ego merchants trying to be clever clever...

Steve said...

Gorilla Bananas: personally, I don't think she can even manage half.

John: we need an army of us (American readers please note use of non-capitalization).

Vicky: the only people happy will be the sponsors.

The fly in the web: I know a lot of people who use Facebook for news - that's truly going from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Rol said...

I'm pleased to say I have no idea who Katie Hopkins is. I keep seeing her name and photo and various anger directed towards her, but I'm fortunate to have thus far avoided any direct contact.

I agree about blocking though. I recently got trolled on facebook after leaving an innocuous comment on a friend's post and it was a delight to discover how to block the offender. I wish I'd had that power 15 years ago at the height of my internet troll exposure.

On a completely unrelated issue, I hate having to prove I'm not a robot to post a comment. Sam has a toy robot that says "I-Am-A-Robot" and I feel great sympatico with him. I want to say it loud and proud... "I AM A ROBOT!" ...but if I do, no one will hear me.

Steve said...

Rol: not knowing who Katie Hopkins is, is good; having her not know who you are is better. As for the robot thing, yeah, it is annoying. I even have to go through it on my own blog. It does, however, make me feel a little bit like Dirk Deckard. Now. Rol. You see a tortoise on its back... how do you feel?

Nota Bene said...

Social norms do fly out the window when it comes to interweb commentary...it's tragic because sooner or later governments will impose some heavy-handed legislation which will restrict us all...end of freedom of speech...

Cherie said...

Steve,I gave up facebook because of the vile and evil spoutings of a few people. I could open a new account in a different name but hey! you know what? I don't miss it. I must admit it took a few days to get over constantly checking but I have so many more hours in my day to do other things. I will stick with all my blog buddies.

Steve said...

Nota Bene: and that is my biggest fear. We all lose out because of the verbal outpourings of idiots, malcontents and "haters".

Cherie: probably the most sensible response of all. Leave the haters locked in a room with only each other for company!

Keith said...

Well said Sir. Couldn't agree more.

No need to say any more.

Suburbia said...

Did you listen to the radio 4 program about Minecraft yesterday? It was great! And it seems it's not only adults taking pleasure in destroying others worlds.

Steve said...

Keith: job done, then.

Suburbia: sadly not, no, I was otherwise engaged... however, as a latecomer/new convert to Minecraft I would have liked to have!

Barry Coidan said...

Who is this Katie Hopkins and why is she such a problem? She's fucking ugly @KTHopkins and that my unalienable right to express my view.

Steve said...

Barry: I could draw a face onto a paper bag if it would help get you in the mood.

Wanderlust said...

I've often wondered what trolls did before the advent of the internet and social media. Throw rocks from overpasses? Light things on fire in their mother's basement? Torture small animals? Really, where did they come from?

Steve said...

Wanderlust: they hung around our workplaces, venues and homes exercising their passive-aggression, they wrote anonymous letters to newspapers, wrote nasty graffiti on the walls, gossiped behind people's backs and many, many years ago threw stones and lynched people.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I couldn't agree more Steve. Well said. Luckily, touch wood, my own trolls have been few and far between and I try to refrain from being too outraged by anyone else's postings or opinions, not least as you'll never convince them through abuse! : - )
Have only had to block one individual from FB and delete a few blog messages over the years, albeit most of these have been spam rather than outright abuse.

Steve said...

Laura: there has definitely been a paradigm shift in people's behaviour online over the last few years that has definitely not been for the better... the internet has always had dark corners but now that darkness seems to be spreading everywhere. It is depressing and soul destroying to witness.

Kenneth Noisewater said...

I think 85% of the people who comment on stuff (outside of blogger) are opinionated jerks, racists, sexists, psychos or all of the above. Trolls just so desperately want attention, lurking under their bridges posting those controversial comments . . .

Steve said...

Kenneth: indeed. But it begs the question - who are the other 15%? The bridge builders or the goats?

Kenneth Noisewater said...

Quite true. Wonder if those trolls have specifications for their bridge builders, like trap doors so the goats fall right into thier kitchen. I gotta add Steve to my blog roll!

Steve said...

Kenneth: good idea - 'cos I'll only troll you till you do.

Trish Burgess said...

I've only just read this post but, as always, you have put into word so eloquently what I am thinking.
I worry so much about trolling and I often wonder whether I sub-consciously keep my blog posts and column pieces free of contention so that I don't offend anyone. I don't think I could deal with the abuse.

Steve said...

Trish: there are people out there who are so desperate to be offended and enraged that they will deliberately find cause in the most innocuous of posts.

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Working on a gorgeous day in my garden yesterday, it occurred to me that I'd get more done there if I removed myself from the Internet...

Steve said...

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden: am discovering the same thing myself...!

Keith said...

Ahem. May I, as self elected Spokesperson for your devoted readers, hope your current radio silence is not permanent ?

Steve said...

Hi Keith, good to hear from you and nice to know I'm being missed. My father died just over a month ago and it's hit me for 6. I will be back soon though, that's a promise.

Keith said...

Ah, Steve. I wish you strength and equilibrium in such time.

We will still be here when you are ready.

Steve said...

Keith: thank you!

The Sagittarian said...

Steve - so sorry to hear about your dad. Thinking of you all.

Steve said...

Amanda: thank you, that's hugely appreciated.