Society of Trolls

I’ve been following the recent stories about Twitter trolling with great interest. Leaving aside the fact that it is curiously timed just as the Government needs to find a way to justify spying on everybodys online communication (and who didn’t see that coming? To find the needle in the haystack, first you must gather the entire haystack) it reminds me of, of all things, football hooligans.

First, a quick disclaimer. I’m not attempting to justify the horrendous abuse meted out to Stella Creasy and others. And I do make the distinction between that and people calling abuse or trolling on others because they don’t like having their opinions challenged. Happens to me all the damned time. What I’m wondering is not whether it happens, but why does it happen.

There is a fairly famous quote when football hooliganism was at its height in this country in the mid 1980s. The head of the FA, Ted Croker, was summoned to a meeting with the Prime Minister. She asked him outright “And what do you propose to do about your hooligans?”. To which he responded “Not my hooligans, Prime Minister. The product of your society.”

This discussion is reflected in the Twitter trolls debate. It seems to be up to Twitter (or Facebook, or pick your social media of choice) to police the behaviour of people. Now, I’m not defending the company to the hilt – like most social media, they have ignored, accidentally or deliberately or a mixture of both, the potential problems with their platform, but trying to say that the phenomenon of anonymous abuse (misogynistic or otherwise) started with them is wrong.

For some reason, people think that it is OK to try to hide behind anonymous handles and attack people from behind a keyboard. And that is a societal problem, not a technical one. You can’t install some kind of scanner to make the problem magically disappear. (Hang on a minute, that seems a familiar idea.) It raises questions of education, society. The discussion can be expanded into areas like marketing and consumerism, the drip drip drip of messages sent to the population every single day.

But then this is complicated. Politicians don’t like complicated. They like easy answers and quick fixes. And, they don’t like being told they are wrong.

After all, I’m sure that is merely a coincidence that Ted Croker remains the only FA Chairman never to have been knighted.

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