I’m fairly certain that if I were to mention that the Internet is a showcase for the very worst of humanity, your minds would remain unblown. Doesn’t stop it from being true, though; since writing a post that included “Lazy Town” and “fuck” in the title, the number one source of hits on this blog has become people searching Google for Lazy Town porn. (Just in case we’re not clear on the wrongness of that fact: during its initial run, the actress who played Stephanie would have been between 13 and 15.)
the centre of a dogshit pearl
The recent death of Charlotte Dawson has re-started the perennial debate on trolling. While I’ve witnessed plenty of trolling behaviour, I don’t have much experience as the victim of one. That’s not to say I have no such experience – here’s a message I received not too long ago:
The person who sent me that message was moved to do so because I beat them at a computer game. A computer card game.
(I also once received the message “you finish to do the chicken wet”, which I assume was translated from some insulting phrase in French – less immediately offensive, but infinitely more disquieting.)
The first thing that strikes me about trolling is how clearly the victim is not a human being in the eyes of the troll. Most of the time the trolling is being done for the benefit of the troll’s peers – the victim is incidental as anything other than a convenient target. In the worst cases of mass abuse, trolling becomes a nastier version of the Aristocrats joke – you can see the participants trying to come up with the most offensive thing to say, to impress/one-up everyone else doing it – causing grief to the victim is secondary. Certainly, in the recent case of the people convicted of abusing Caroline Criado-Perez over Twitter, the two defendants didn’t give any indication of an agenda in respect to their target – they were just doing it for kicks or for acclaim within their own social circle. When trolls become a mob, the end result is a sort of feedback loop, where the abuse just gets worse and worse, and the longer it goes, the less human the target becomes – eventually they’re just the excuse, the grain of sand at the centre of a dogshit pearl. And obviously the less human they become, the more dehumanising the behaviour against them becomes, and so on.
So what can anyone do? Hell, I don’t know. Some people say “don’t feed the trolls”; others say you should engage them, and it certainly seems to make a difference if you can make a troll understand that it’s a real person they’re abusing (although when a person’s being inundated with thousands of hateful tweets, one-on-one interaction with all of them isn’t even possible). Nevertheless, it seems like trolling is just a subset of “being an arsehole” – trying to solve the problem of trolling is trying to solve the problem of people being arseholes. And people will always be arseholes, particularly when there’s a noted lack of consequences (is there anyone who hasn’t seen Penny Arcade’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory?). You’d need some sort of universal increase in empathy to make people mindful of the fact that there’s a human being on the other end of their ranting.
For the time being, my preferred response to trolling is this bit of classic Buzz Lightyear:
You could put that on a T-shirt.