An online troll is a person who posts comments on a website or internet forum in order to cause upset, and recently this has been extended to Social Media such as Twitter and Facebook.
There are different types of trolls. Some are ‘emotional trolls’ who get their kicks from posing as a distressed person, and asking other users for advice.
Other trolls post hard luck stories, in the hope that other forum users will offer to send them money or gifts.
I have always found the emotional trolls the most disruptive to a website, as they encourage other posters to share sometimes traumatic experiences. They are also very difficult to expose as trolls due the subject of their posting.
There is another type of troll, possibly the most common one. The offensive troll. These users post inflammatory comments, often aimed at certain members of society – ethnic minorities, women, benefit recipients, people with disabilities, or single parents… the list of targets is long.
I began writing this blog post earlier today after reading the article in the Daily Mail by Jan Moir, in which she calls an Olympic athlete, ‘some bitch from Holland’. While I was writing it, a Twitter user posted abusive comments at one of our own athletes – Tom Daley.
Both the Twitter user and Jan Moir are, in my opinion, ‘trolls’. The former uses more crude language than the latter (although she is catching up) but is at least not writing for a national publication.
While I was writing this, a Twitter user called Rileyy found out what happens when a troll goes too far. Starting with a barrage of abuse against British diver Tom Daley, he swiftly backtracked when Daley replied to his tweets.
He then realised that his comments were being RTed by irate Daley fans (and there are a LOT of them) and generally appalled observers, and then even featured on Sky News. His disbelief turned back into rage.
It is easy to use this as an example of where a Twitter user went too far with a comment, which he did not expect anyone except his own followers to pick up on. A quick glance through the rest of Rileyy’s Twitter feed revealed however that this was not a one off comment. His feed is full of hate, bigotry and misogyny.
What is the correct way of dealing with such a person? Should Twitter shut down his account? According to the Twitter rules, ‘Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others’. Officially the abuse towards Daley does not fall into that category. The only option open to a user who is a target of such vile behaviour is to block the abuser.
(as I continued to write, Rileyy crossed the line by posting the below threat, which should be enough for Twitter to delete his account. If that is not a direct, specific threat, then I don’t know what is. I would hope that the police get involved in this now too.)
@TomDaley1994 i’m going to find you and i’m going to drown you in the pool you cocky twat your a nobody people like you make me sick
(ITV has picked up the story here)
The TV presenter Kirstie Allsop was abused yesterday by two young girls, in a similar fashion to the Olympian Daley. Hate and bile filled messages out of the blue, from young Twitter users.
The offensive troll is limited only by the size of his or her readership, and how often the offensive comment or blog post is passed on to others. Twitter and Facebook are good mediums for the distribution of these articles. We are all guilty to some extent of ‘feeding the troll’ when we pass on a link, with a statement such as, ‘OMG, I cannot believe that XX wrote this, pls read and RT’ or ‘lets get this trending!’.
Trolls feed on attention and the only way of stopping them is by not giving them the attention that they so desire. Easy said – but not so easily done, as our first instinct is to shout to the roof tops, to draw attention to the bigotry.
When however, an article is not shared on a blog or a forum, but in a national newspaper then it becomes more difficult to ignore. Printing this kind of article lends legitimacy to the opinions of the writer, and signals to members of the general public that using offensive language or rhetoric is acceptable. It makes it more difficult to go against the grain and say, ‘Actually, I find that rather offensive’, without being dismissed as a typical lefty, a member of the professionally offended brigade.
Jan Moir’s article in today’s Daily Mail is a case in point. Not only does she call a world class athlete ‘some bitch from Holland’ for beating our British competitor, she filled a column with spiteful remarks against respected sportswomen and presenters. (here a link to a photo taken by @jonathanhaynes, not the Daily Mail website)
‘Zara Phillips… still contrives to sound like a bored Essex under manicurist despite being a) royal and b) taking part in the poshest Olympic sport’
‘.. what in the name of crispy grilled trout with almonds has happened to Sharron Davies’s face? … Sharron is going for gold.. if she manages to move her facial muscles before midnight, someone should give her a medal’.
Moir goes on to praise the British cyclist Lizzie Armistead for looking flawless after the 80 mile race, and for not having ruined her perfect manicure, then it is back to bad cop Moir when describing Sue Barker’s make up as ‘a little Halloween’.
This is not a Daily Mail reporter who has had a bad day; Moir has form for making sweeping and offensive statements. Her editor obviously found calling a foreign competitor in the Olympics a ‘bitch from Holland’ perfectly acceptable. Although, we really should not be surprised at this, as this blog shows – the Daily Mail does not shy away from posting offensive crap. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny.. all in a days work for the Daily Mail.
And so a day on Twitter comes to an end with two very different trolls.
Am I adding to their fifteen minutes of fame by even writing about them? Should we punish them by withdrawing our attention, or should we protest against them?
And should Twitter be doing more to stop the terrible abuse?
** UPDATE **
BBC News report that a 17 year old Twitter user is being investigated in Weymouth in connection with the tweets, and have tweeted that the person has been arrested.