The discussion about trolling in the wake of the Charlotte Dawson thing is really starting to stick in my craw.
First, this is not going to be a litany of all the times I’ve copped abuse on the internet. Pretty much everyone else who has talked about this subject has done that to start with, and the discussion then becomes about that instead, and quite frankly, it’s distracting from what the conversation should be about.
Nor do I think the attention paid by the media is a good thing, because let’s face it. The media in this country are pretty much only good for taking a serious issue and making it a bloody farce. But the attention paid to this by the people who actually use and engage in social media platforms regularly has the capacity to be a good thing, if we each have a think about our own behaviour and others within our networks. I am very sad to see intelligent, forthright people who’s views I would love to know turned away from this discussion by the sheer volume of shite that’s being talked about it.
So of course, I will add to it.
Ten points, straight up:
1. There is a difference between abusive, threatening language and trolling. Too many times, the former gets written off as the latter, but right now we’re seeing the latter described as the former.
2. Abuse is abuse even if it’s on the internet. Would it be abuse if it was on the phone or in person? THEN IT’S ABUSE, EVEN ON THE INTERNET. You don’t get brownie points for threatening to punch someone only in email or twitter format. If you are behaving like a dick only on the internet? You’re still behaving like a dick. It’s like saying “I only kill kittens in odd numbered houses, so it’s perfectly okay” Think of the kittens, people. The purry, furry kittens.
3. Shut up, tabloids. You are trolls in paper form.
4. One in four people has a mental illness. If you aren’t taking that into account when you’re flaming or trolling people, think about four people you love. One of them may have a mental illness that makes their risk of suicide much higher. They may not be able to properly contexualise what is being written about them at that precise moment. Yes, trolling is fun. But regardless of what spirit you intend it in, you might be doing harm. Is it worth doing harm to someone so you can have people think you’re really quite clever and witty? I am not saying that every person with a mental illness needs to be wrapped in cotton wool and cannot be ribbed or japed with, but if you don’t know the person well enough to know if this might be a pressure point for them, do you know them well enough to know how they’re going to take your good humoured trolling?
5. This does not in any way mean that all trolling is bad mkay, or that trolling should be outlawed, or that I don’t troll my own husband and close friends on an incredibly regular basis. But I know them, and I can tweet something ridiculous at them and monitor their reaction in real time. If you cannot do that with your intended target, it might be worth just not doing.
6. If you are only telling people you disagree with when they’re stepping over the line, you are really doing it wrong. Some of my biggest regrets in my online interactions have been not letting someone know they were going over the line, because I didn’t want to be jumped on by the rest of the group, or because I knew that it might lose me other online friends. That should have been besides the point. I’ve seen groups of people get really visceral and nasty and not said anything, and I bloody well should have. This is everyone’s responsibility, regardless of how uncomfortable that makes us.
7. When you are pulling someone up for falling over the line into Stupidtwon, you should either do that respectfully in the same forum the stupidness occured, or quietly let both the aggressor and the target know you don’t think it’s acceptable. The reason for that is two-fold. First, if you don’t let the target know that you think it’s unacceptable, they see it as a tacit agreement that what they’ve copped is acceptable. Secondly, the bullied very often become the bullies. If you don’t let them know this behaviour is not okay, the next time someone whacks them, they’ll whack back, and all of a sudden the derp has multiplied and you’ve got twice as much stupid clogging up your feed. It needs to be respectful, and it needs to be public. And when I say respectful, I mean don’t book a ticket to Stupidtwon yourself trying to save your friend from gaining citizenship.
8. It is up to every single one of us to police our own communities, and to set our own boundaries, and decide what interactions we will and will not accept from people. I will by and large not accept people insulting my family, and that’s my personal line. I am well within my right to police that line with a firm but polite “You are being too personal, I will no longer be interacting with you” and a firm but not-so-polite blocking on a second offence. This does not mean that if you are more or less sensitive than other people you should have to leave the internet. Some people think insulting or inflaming people is hilarious. Others don’t. And both of those positions are okay. But if someone asks you to stop a certain behaviour and you don’t? You’re being an arsehole. You might want to, you know, not be?
9. If you have said something that has upset someone and your first response is not “I’m sorry you’ve been hurt by that”, and having a think about how your words have been received, regardless of whether you personally think it’s offensive or not, you need to check yourself. Everyone says something at one stage or another that’s over the line of decency, and you are NOT immune from this. If your first reaction is to further insult the person by suggesting they’re also a big cry baby and you’re only trolling so it’s really perfectly okay and maybe they should HTFU and get off your internet because of course you are the arbiter of what is right and what is wrong and don’t have any kind of vested interest in not addressing your own behaviour because maybe it’s making someone feel uncomfortable, think about how much easier it would be if you just acknowledge that the other person has been hurt without having to have a long, drawn out argument about whether it’s okay for them to be hurt about something. P.S, that’s gaslighting.
10. Yes, people overreact. Even if they do, a polite “I did not mean that in the way you’ve read it and I’m sorry it has hurt you” is probably still the decent thing to do. You don’t have to prostrate yourself at the feet of every martyr around, but seriously. What does it cost to acknowledge how someone else feels? If they continually kick the hornets nest and then complain, don’t interact with them. That’s your choice, too. Every time you tweet about someone just to get a rise, you’re making a choice to bring the derpstorm that much closer. Do you really need the hassle?
11.. Just because you disagree with someone or think they have a stupid face doesn’t mean you can’t be polite. I don’t know when I realised that I didn’t have to be angry and snarky and confrontational about every piece of writing I saw on the internet, but when I did I felt so much better. Sometimes I see things written about me or my husband or some sexist racist piece of garbage and it makes me see red. So I write a comment, leave it alone for a few hours and come back and read it before I hit submit. I have a rule with these things: It has to matter, it has to be contribute to the conversation, and it has to be something I would be okay with saying to their face, and having everyone I know reading. 99% of the time, it fails at the “It has to matter” hurdle. Sometimes it’s important to provide a different perspective, or let someone know they’ve missed something important. But there is no reason not to be polite about it. If you call someone a dick and then provide some important feedback, do you think that gets listened to as much as just the feedback?
12. The internet can be awesome. Contribute to that by making sure you only interact with people who are awesome, and interact awesomely. Be known as a kind person, and be polite to everyone, even those who don’t deserve it. Keep your corner of the internet so awesome, it repels arseholes.