What’s Wrong with Trolling?
This being the day of the internet, we writers are naturally accustomed to trolling in its many guises, and most of us who have ever written anything published online hold at least some form of opinion on the subject. Over recent months mainstream media coverage has led to those less au fait with the phenomenon seeing it as another sign of society in decline, but Dan Lucas wonders if there’s anything really wrong with it.
I feel I should open with a caveat here, lest the Daily Mail and other middle-aged media types who wouldn’t know a social networking site if it jumped up and bit them on the arse rain hell fire down on us: trolling is not online bullying. The high-profile cases where abusive comments were directed at victims of tragedy such as Natasha MacBryde and Georgia Varley fall into the latter category and are at best needlessly offensive, at worst a sad insight into what some individuals are reduced to for kicks. These are the things legislation is apparently being sought to eradicate, and whilst some may glibly say “they’re just anonymous words from a nobody, people need to toughen up”Â, why should they? This is not, however, trolling.
Trolling is ostensibly supposed to be a fun, light-hearted and witty way of getting a rise out of someone, as the Urban Dictionary succinctly puts it, “Being a prick on the internet because you can.”Â Among friends it’s an idea way to break up the saccharine, the pious and the self-absorbed posts on global procrastination tool Facebook; often the pithy barbs posted at my personal tastes are genuinely funny, and I like to think that I’ve made a decent shot of winding up my friends over their football team of choice or favourite TV show (unless it’s Breaking Bad. You cannot troll Breaking Bad), or even my own girlfriend for liking The Stone Roses. As in real life, most people will occasionally see their jokes fall flat or even unintentionally piss someone off, but on the whole it’s supposed to make people laugh whilst you’re killing time ”â maybe not the most constructive pastime, but that’s not really the point.
The biggest danger here is that people may confuse genuine trolling (I’ve never seen The Shield so I don’t doubt Vic Mackey is a more complex character than Grant Mitchell on steroids, I don’t think that Tottenham supporters think it’s OK to chant “white power”Â) with actual opinions (I do think Game of Thrones is better than The Sopranos, I am still waiting for apologies for those who slated me for giving Avatar 3/10). The key is making sure that jokes are obviously jokes rather than directionless offence; you can say that you wish The Stone Roses had held on for a bit longer in the dole queue, you can’t say that you wish the rest of Queen had died of AIDS too.
Of course trolling isn’t limited to social spheres; as visitors to this and other online magazines and blogs will probably know, a comments board is an invitation to trolls more than those with something genuinely pertinent to say (and only marginally less than to advertising/porn bots). From time to time the comments at the bottom of articles such as these will have something to say, and if the point of arts reviews is to start a discussion then they are the ideal format for doing so. The thing is that, unless you’re making a point about either something I’ve written or the subject of the article, no one really cares what you, dear reader, think. I don’t need a comment half the length of my column sniping at me about a typo, I don’t need twelve individual comments from the same person telling me my 0/10 review of a Cast album is lazily written, and no one really needs the ensuing Twitter
storm light drizzle (especially if said nine-time commenter is following it up five months down the line with threats more bizarre than confidence-shaking).
In a way, the writer being trolled is a lot like the stand up comedian being heckled. His piece is right up top, it’s the reason for everyone being there in the first place, and he has the biggest platform from which he can shout the loudest. Furthermore, 90% of the time the writer knows what he’s talking about, and has the ammo to shoot you back down in the event that you’re actually heard. Occasionally you might get one over on him and he’ll have to acknowledge this (as Frankie Boyle apparently did when he asked an audience member at a show to tell him a joke, to which they responded “there’s an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman, and they all think you’re a cunt”Â), but this seems to be rare. There’s nothing really wrong with trolling, anonymously or not, but it’s probably advisable to actually be good at it.