Trolling and Responsibility in the Public Space

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I would have to agree with the belief that people don’t quite realise the consequences of putting so much personal information about themselves on the Internet for the (digitally-connected) world to see. We are presented with a tool which seems like mere fun; sharing photos, thoughts and videos with friends, family and even total strangers. We scarcely give a thought to what others could do with that information. Why would we? We’re too busy laughing at another Epic Fail on YouTube.

I started this blog nearly six months ago. In that time, I have published more than 100 posts and ended up with over 500 followers on Twitter. That seems bonkers to me (though it is, of course, immensely appreciated!). I have also gone into much more detail about my personal life than I ever thought I would – and than I ever thought I would feel comfortable doing. It’s strange: once people began to respond to posts positively, it gave me confidence in what I was doing; and if posts were actually helping people, then I wasn’t about to stop.

It’s perfectly possible, though, that I have gone into too much detail about – for example – my mental health, and that this could effect things such as employment prospects. But I shall cross that bridge when I come to it. Frankly, there was a time, not too long ago, when I didn’t think I would even be around to face such hyoptheticals. The fact that I am means that I am not going to betray the attention people have kindly entrusted to me. I will keep doing what I’m doing.

***

Aside from the responsibility of sensitive information, there is another very immediate and obvious issue that those who either blog or use social media or do both have to contend with: trolls. We all know what they are and we all know not to feed them.

So when a friend is being maligned, berated, or just generally picked on or abused, it can seem a tricky situation. You don’t want to entice more trolls, nor embolden their virulence, not least in your friend’s direction. Furthermore, you may not feel up to subjecting yourself to a torrent of (inevitable) abuse. So what does one do?

Admittedly, I don’t actually have an answer to this. Personally, whilst I have always struggled with confidence, I am unfazed by the prospect – and experience – of vitriol from these types. Admittedly (again) I have never received death threats or threats of rape. If I did, I would doubtless feel differently. One radio journalist describes the hateful messages that routinely appear in their inbox: on top of racist abuse (they have an Irish surname) are people wishing cancer upon the presenter’s wife and children. Pathetic. Truly pathetic. And nasty – let’s not kid ourselves. I for one wouldn’t want to share breathing space with anyone like that; I have better things to do with my time.

What intrigues me most about trolls though, is the curious, confused direction their moral compasses point in. Perhaps this is a unique example but, just this morning, one troll – who boasted of having two accounts; cap doffed – became upset by the fact that someone they were obnoxiously arguing with had checked out their profile, realised that the troll’s behaviour this particular morning was typical, and concluded that any dialogue was fruitless. “Don’t read my profile either”, they said. I then fed the troll, pointing out that Twitter is a public forum – indeed, a global one – and received the following responses:

Go away you strange little creature.

I don’t read the profiles of those I’m in a discussion with. It’s rude to do so.

It really is that simple.

***

I can’t say that one should never feed the trolls, because if I did, I would be as big a hypocrite as the aforementioned. I will, however, continue to use my little space of the Internet to write whatever words come into my head. A friend told me yesterday that my compliment meant a lot to them. Whilst I’m not a confident person, I do have confidence in my writing, thanks to the kind words of others. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine why what I say would mean much of anything. But, if indeed it does, then I will do my best to use my words kindly and honestly.

That, in my opinion, is all we should ever aim for.

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