Monday, March 30, 2015


It’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.


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…

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Don't Interrupt The Flow

A small gripe, this, and in the bigger scheme of things doesn't count for a great deal. But it does, to use the Aussie vernacular, get my goat.

I'm at that age / station in life / financial situation where going out regularly - pubs, meals, cinema, cultural venues, etc - is nigh on an impossibility. They are special treats that must be saved up for and savoured. I don't have a problem with this. This is how life is at the moment and others have it far worse.

But for me a perfect way of unwinding after a hard day at work is simply time curled up on the sofa with my good lady wife watching some choice telly. Staying in and watching telly is undervalued and mis-sold in the modern media representation of our dynamic, thrusting, young techno-adept society.

But I'll bet I'm not alone in holding various TV show up as the highpoint of my week and viewing them as some kind of personal reward for another day at work got through / another ordeal endured.

Be it Doctor Who, The Musketeers, Dragon's Den, the forthcoming re-adaption of Poldark - whatever your poison - these humble little treats afforded us by a wonderfully creative UK television and movie industry (that is largely unsupported by the UK government) are what keep most of us going during the mundane, day-to-day drag of our everyday existence.

So it pisses me off - admittedly disproportionately to the crime - when the programming schedulers suddenly interrupt a series run to put something else on instead. Sport usually or some yaw-yawing political debate.

The current run of The Musketeers has been, to my memory, interrupted no less than 3 times. Now I recognise, with consummate bad timing for this post, that the current hiatus is because of Comic Relief next week and that's fine. That's understandable, acceptable and palatable. But the first two occasions were because of sporting fixtures.

Now I will also admit that I am not a sport fan. I am in fact the diametric opposite. I loathe televised sport. Watching other people perform sport is like watching other people play computer games without participating yourself or watching joggers run round the park. What is the point?

But by the by.

If I were the writer / producer / actor in any of these shows whose transmission run is broken for the sake of a football match I would be spitting feathers. A good drama series has a flow to it. An over-arc in addition to the arc of each individual episode. That flow is part of the creative drive of the show. And though some might argue that with the advent of catch-up TV scheduling no longer matters, historically the general public has an expectation that if a TV drama series is broadcast at some pre-specified and henceforth established time on a week evening then that is the slot which it will hold for all perpetuity - or at least until the series terminates. England expects. And I'm sure Scotland, Wales and Ireland do too.

To have all that time and creative energy, that carefully crafted flow cast aside for a rugby match is infuriating and insulting. I'm not knocking sport, really I'm not. If that's your bag good for you. Be welcome to it. But given the sheer amount of TV channels these days - and many solely devoted to sport - why should a sporting fixture be allowed to shoehorn its way into another schedule to attract probably less viewers than have been driven away by the banishment of the original show? Shove it onto a sports channel where the jogger-watchers can drink their beer, eat their pies and vicariously enjoy the healthier lifestyle of other people without incurring the wrath of the more tasteful majority!

Like I said, it's a small gripe. And I will accept all accusations that I am a stick-in-the-mud, dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist but, Goddamnit, Friday night is "Musketeers night" and that's all there is to it!