We’ve seen a lot of media coverage about online trolling recently – usually directed at celebrities and completely uncalled for. I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t say anything to someone in an online environment that you wouldn’t say to them if you met them on the street. That’s why certain online behaviours are annoying me more and more.
Social media is a wonderful tool which allows everyone to share information and express views, but I fear that it often goes too far. It’s the step from tweeting that Judy Finnegan’s remarks on Loose Women (suggesting that some types of rape cause no significant harm) to threats of raping her daughter. It’s the vilification of those who speak out against inequality, particularly for those who self identify as feminists. I’ve even seen someone go to the extent of creating screenshots of fake tweets from celebrities and tweeting them to the celebrity’s fan – tweets which tell the recipient that they are ugly and should kill themselves.
I firmly agree with the online adage of “Don’t feed the trolls” as ultimately they get off on a response. By arguing with them you are feeding their need for attention. Although it can be overwhelmingly tempting it’s best not to, you must not engage with them – it takes two to have an argument. One person arguing is really just one person shouting for attention.
Of course, you can block and report such vicious trolling to Facebook , Twitter or any other forum you are using. You can block/mute/unfriend people so you don’t have to see their abuse. You can change your privacy setting so that nobody can contact your or see your activity other than your actual friends. Ardent trollers may open another account to pursue you, but they quickly tire if people keep reporting them.
What I am increasingly seeing, however, is something which I suspect affects more people than formal “trolling”. I see it particularly on Twitter and also in Facebook groups. It doesn’t involve death threats or direct abuse; it’s what I’ve come to call facetious following. This isn’t undertaken by people who are consciously trying to upset you, more make themselves feel better by picking apart tiny typos, posting sarcastic replies or generally being flippant. More often than not the behaviour is just thoughtless.
I’m not for a moment saying that these things are on the scale of trolling, but what I am saying is that it feels like it’s more prevalent. It can range from someone replying to a Halloween post with a photo of them “dressed up” as a sports personality famed for beating up their girlfriend ( dummy with black eye accompanying them), to someone picking up a spelling error or misuse of a word.
Yesterday, I saw someone complain that the cat selfie photos posted by an animal welfare charity weren’t true selfies as the pictures weren’t taken by cats. It had a caveat that the photos were nice all the same but why bother saying anything at all ? Isn’t the real purpose to raise awareness of a charitable cause – if it achieves the objective, what the hell does it matter? This really got my goat.This is but one example. I’ve also seen someone query a tweeter’s use of a split infinitive when complaining about an advert. Who the hell cares? The guy isn’t writing War and Peace – he’s tweeting a complaint in 140 characters. Give him a break!
What concerns me about this type of low level flippancy, inappropriate humour or snarky-ness is the volume. I wouldn’t dream of correcting someone about the misuse or mispronunciation of a word if I was in conversation with them, particularly on a first meeting. To do so is just bad manners. I don’t need to be right. I don’t need to be the person who knows more than the other person. It’s not my job to correct people. I don’t need to put others down to make myself feel better.
In the modern world, with all its stresses and frustrations, it’s fair to say that we can often want to lash out. Someone’s misplaced apostrophe in a tweet or on Facebook, may be an immediate and perhaps harmless way of venting some of that. But you don’t know that person, you don’t know their situation, or even if they’ve had a bad day too but odds on they have. Your “helpful” or “amusing” but sarcastic post may just be the straw on the camel’s back which leaves them crying on the sofa or enforce that gnawing feeling of self doubt. It may be that you mean your text or tone to be taken in a perfectly breezy way, but you don’t know that person and they don’t know you.
So while you may not consider yourself a troll, when you next write that tweet with a “@” in it, or reply to a strangers post with the aim of correcting them in some way, STOP!!! Do you need to correct them? Do you need to disagree with them? I’m all for free speech and for greater interaction between social media users, but please be considerate of others. In the words of two great philosophers, Bill and Ted, be excellent to each other.