I have told a mother of two that I would like to drown her children. I have accused politicians of rape and sodomy. I have told a journalist that the world would be a better place if he suffocated himself with a copy of his newspaper. I have made people I’ve never met cry, and I have enjoyed it.
If you’re on Twitter and you follow a few people in the UK media and blogosphere, you’ll have heard of me, and probably seen some of my tweets. The thing is, I don’t think of myself as a troll, but a lot of other people do. I can see why my anger and maybe my language might upset people.
I’ve been asked to write a few words about why I troll. I’ve accepted the definition as someone who intentionally and persistently causes emotional distress. Let me try to explain what’s going on when you see an apparently tasteless joke or a barrage of swear words in my feed.
I spend a lot of time on Twitter, following people I find interesting. Many of them are journalists. Journalists like to moan about all the “abuse” they get, but frankly they deserve most of it. They aren’t entitled to special treatment just because they landed a job at a newspaper.
In my opinion my anonymity is a right and a fundamental feature of the internet. It’s essential that people should be allowed to obscure their identities online. I work in the public sector and would lose my job instantly if I expressed my opinions under my own name.
That isn’t because I believe anything particularly revolting, or because I am desperate to criticize my bosses or the Government. It’s because in some jobs you just don’t have the freedom to say whatever you want to whoever you want in public.
So, you see, online anonymity gives a voice to the voiceless. Those of us who would not normally be able to give our views on the issue of the day are enabled by how easy it is to sign up for an anonymous account on social media. Anonymity is good for democracy and debate.
I know a lot of people abuse the responsibility that comes with being anonymous. You’d probably say I do, too. But the thing about trolls is we’re not psychopaths who don’t understand what we’re doing. We’re normal people expressing strong but sincere opinions, using the internet to guard ourselves.
Some might call that cowardly. But what else should doctors, lawyers and teachers do when they’re angry about a stupid opinion or a fresh indignity visited on the poor by a merciless government? Just stay quiet and hope our vote counts in four years’ time?
I think it’s brilliant that we have the chance to contribute fully and without holding ourselves back in discussions that were previously reserved for elites. And, you know, if we sometimes have to use strong language to make our points, because we don’t have a media profile, so what?
The bottom line is: people in the public eye should learn to be more thick-skinned. After all, celebrities know they have to suck up a lot of abuse. Journalists and politicians should realize that when they go out there and express a strong opinion, they will make some people very angry.
And some of those people will speak up. We’re not going away, so whiny public figures should get used to being disagreed with and stop acting like divas. The world has changed and the people now have a voice. It’s time for the establishment to get used to hearing it, at last.