Thursday, November 26, 2015

Life Trolls

Internet trolls and online abuse - it's a subject I just keep coming back to, I find the phenomena endlessly fascinating.  Particularly fascinating is the way in which every new type of social media is quickly turned into a conduit for the anger and frustration of the trolls and their ilk: blog comments, message boards, Facebook, Twitter - I've seen them all used to berate, bully and abuse individuals.  I'm always astounded by the things which set the bullying off - you'd think that it would be triggered by some kind of serious issue, but no, more often than not it is because someone - usually a complete stranger to those doing the abusing - has simply expressed an opinion the trolls don't agree with.  For some reason, this sends them apoplectic with rage.  For example, I was recently reading about a woman whose only 'crime' was to say that she didn't want to have children - she suddenly found herself on the receiving end of quite appalling abuse on Twitter from complete strangers.  (Quite why so many people felt so strongly about a personal choice made by an individual they didn't know eludes me - it isn't a crime not to want children.  I've never felt the urge to reproduce my genes either- I don't think that makes me evil or reprehensible.  It also doesn't mean that I hate children.  I don't, I just don't want any of my own).

But I digress.  Not all internet trolling is quite as extreme or as vicious.  Most of it is much lower level and, to be frank, consists of people being dicks.  You know the soert of thing I mean: the pedants in message boards or blog comments who insist in correcting even the tiniest inaccuracies in the postings of others, using the most supercilious tone possible; the idiots who just can't help making snide comments in response to postings (they probably think they are being witty - they aren't); and the contrarians who, as a matter of principle, disagree with anything anyone else says, usually in the most offensive way possible.  But, this sort of thing isn't unique to the web.  Not even the vicious social media type of bullying.  In the past, it took the form of poison pen letters and offensive grafitti sprayed on people's houses.  The web has simply made it easier, quicker and less risky: you no longer have to find out the victim's address, waste money on stamps or run the risk of getting caught in their garden with a spray can of paint.   The low level type of trolling is still prevalent in real life.  It often takes the form of pub bores.  Earlier this week I had the misfortune to have to put up with my local's resident bore, Ted (not his real name, but close enough).  It occurred to me afterward that Ted operates just like an internet troll: disagreeing with anything anyone says in an attempt to establish his (non-existant) intellectual superiority, disparaging opposing views in patronising and offensive terms and hijacking conversations.  The latter is the bit I find most irritating - it frequently becomes impossible to have a conversation as Ted keeps butting in and derailing it, effectively turning it into an argument.  Oh, and he's an instant expert on everything. Ted is one troll I wish would go online and bother people - at least there I could probably get him banned from the virtual equivalent to the pub's lounge bar or, at the very least, block him. Sadly, that just isn't possible with real life trolls. 

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