When I grow up, I’d like to be a Professional Troll-Slayer.
No, not THAT kind (though I do have the beard for this) but the type that has enough brains, clout and sheer bravado to take the Internet Troll to task: news feeds are now littered with examples of how J.K Rowling slays all who deserve it. Often Trolls don’t care about anything but the attention: their actions aren’t motivated in order to provoke a response, it’s being able to spew hate without caring over consequence. Except now, with increasing regularity, trolls are being held to task in spaces outside of social media.
Jack Monroe’s a local lass, friends with at least one person my husband knows, and extremely capable of not taking shit from anybody. The fact she’s now suing one of the most notorious spewers of arrogant and selfish rhetoric on the Internet, Katie Hopkins, fills me with a great deal of both satisfaction and comfort. This is the same Ms Hopkins whose employers at the Daily Mail were forced to cough up a six figure sum over another libellous claim only a few months ago: sadly however, it looks unlikely that this woman will ever change or discover the importance of considering consequence before speaking. However, one assumes that if you get libel proceedings posted against you enough times then eventually people will stop employing you… but we all know that’s not true either.
However, what this case (and others like it) will hopefully highlight is that you can’t just say whatever the fuck you want on the Internet any more without there being some kind of consequence. On the other side Twitter themselves are finally beginning to respond to many complaints that there’s simply not enough ways to deal with the speech at source. There’s been a number of new features that were introduced by the Company at the beginning of February, and indicators that certain behaviour may be being blocked completely. However there’s no independently verified confirmation of this, just the muttering of various websites with quite obvious and extreme right wing political bias. So, perhaps it is best simply to concentrate on the stuff we know is truth, from the source:
I’ve used the Abusive Tweet service on several occasions since November and it is certainly a better and more thoughtful means of targeting what should be genuine abuse or attempts to spread disinformation. However, what this doesn’t provide for is twofold: the previously normal person who ‘goes rogue’ or the professional person such as Ms Hopkins whose presence on Twitter is as important as advertising for the platform, right up until the point it becomes detrimental. As we discovered with a certain young British chap who made his name via social media, you can get away with pretty everything until sex comes up, and then it’s Game Over. Twitter may have banned him last year but by then the damage was done. If the wrong person gets upset or angry, and goes on a rampage, even deleting those Tweets won’t be enough: as we have discussed with George Takei in recent days, people have surprisingly good memories, and everything can be screen-shotted.
However, by far and away the best tool to prevent people from taking you to court is a brain. You simply don’t post, or step away to begin with. If you do go in with your axe held high, be prepared to fight clean and clever. Rowling’s undoubted brilliance is, unsurprisingly, as a writer, and her barbs aren’t hurled at the person but at their comment. Libel, strictly defined, is a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; effectively a written defamation. None of those sick burns are ever about the person themselves, simply the words used, and as long as you understand how thin that line is? You can tread it safely, secure in the fact that this is the way to approach Trolling with Style. The moment you start threatening a person physically or calling their personality into question is when the alarm bells should ring for everybody.
In essence, social media demands people to consider their anger in a literary context when it comes to people or events they find discomforting. If you can take the time to use your words well, they are better weapons than any you might find lying about to poke others with. In fact the damage these words can and will do should never be underestimated: it isn’t the sensitive or exposed at threat here either. On any given day, the President of the United States can be made angry and annoyed by what he hears on a TV screen or on Social media. Journalists can be offended. Prime Ministers can agree or disagree. I’ve seen this all in the last week, and all of this has happened with the power of letters, connected into sentences. Your words can destroy, or liberate, and yet so many people never consider their significance until it is too late.
Time to think more, friends, and hate less.