The news that Chris Grayling wants to punish trolls by locking them in the highest room of the highest tower for a thousand years with a dragon guarding the entrance will come as a shock I imagine to those, like a fresh-faced young man I met at a party a few years ago, who believe that ‘the law doesn’t apply on the internet’ (and therefore he could sell WHATEVER PLANTS HE LIKED on there, right?).
Um no, not quite.
You can see how he got that idea though, particularly back then.
(I laughed at him all the same, in the style of lawyers everywhere when a non-lawyer says something, anything at all, about the law – I THINK YOU WILL FIND IT’S A BIT MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT.*)
For early users of chatrooms (like me) the internet did for a time seem like a fresh and hopeful place, where everyone could speak their minds freely and just hang out, ya know, like, chattin’?
The original trolls were people who took the conversation in chatrooms and forums ‘off topic’ (How quaint that sounds to modern ears. How we used to frown upon the change of subject! Tsk tsk.)
But yes, I would agree that the internet can seem frankly lawless, though these days the internet seems a lot less like Eden and a lot more like the Wild West.
Anyone who spends any time in the New Wild West knows that some pretty vile and vicious things happen out here. Death threats, rape threats, suicides – these are sadly so common as to be almost part of the landscape. And so SO often, individuals seem to left to hang out to dry without the protection of the law or even of the rules of common humanity. I have more to say on this topic but, for now, let’s stick to the subject of the Troll.
In particular – as a long-term resident of Flaming Valley, Troll County, Wyoming, I think it’s worth pointing out that no one really agrees what a Troll is.
Trolls all write things on the internet, but that is about all they have in common.
I would argue that only some of them need to go to prison (otherwise, apart from anything else, we would have to build a LOT of new prisons).
And just like the Wild West, it’s often hard to work out the goodies from the baddies, because they don’t always wear a white hat or sport a twirly moustache. (At least not one you can see from their avatar.)
And one man’s brave pioneer is another man’s land-grabbing oppressor of indigenous peoples.
Now I don’t know about you but I don’t have the utmost confidence that Mr Grayling and his colleagues can be trusted to understand who are the black hats and white hats in, for example, #gamergate.
So here, Mr Grayling, is Number6’s guide to internet ‘trolls’ and suitable punishments. You’re more than welcome:
1. The super fans
These types have always been around but in the old days they were confined to hanging outside stage doors wearing customised t-shirts and holding hand-made teddy bears for the objects of their ‘affection’. Sometimes extreme loyalty spills over into a tiny bit of harassment of people they don’t like – for example, someone who might be snogging the object of your obsession, like poor old Paige Reifler
Of course we are many of us prone to a little obsessive behaviour from time to time and who among us, really, would be happy with anyone checkin’ out our internet history?**
Suitable punishment – related to fan-dom e.g. ritual burning of home-made shrine to Harry Styles.
2. Single Issue Fanatics
Explaining why the world is WRONG and they are RIGHT, often at considerable length with little punctuation to help them. Again, this lot have always been part of the rich human landscape, but before they would usually stay in their bedrooms writing long long screeds about the parlous state of the world until they were forced to leave to go to the shops and buy more green ink.
In fact without the borderline obsessives, many great social changes would never have taken place, for better or worse – Mary Whitehouse was certainly in this category, but then so were Martin Luther and indeed the suffragettes. So, no willies, boobs or bums or uses of the F word on the telly throughout the 1970s and 1980s BUT votes for women – you have to take the rough with the smooth.
Suitable punishment – compulsory inclusion of balanced counterarguments before they are entitled to publish anything (SIFs are allergic to OTOH).
3. Keyboard Krusaders
Fired up, stressed out cousins of the Single Issue Fanatics, these types would be horrified at the idea that they could be considered trolls. They are Brave Truth-Warriors, fearlessly fighting the forces of evil from the safety of their keyboards. (Face to face, they crumple.)
Ukippers mostly fall into this category, and indeed have developed their own jargon to fight the good fight of the oppressed white man, usually consisting of excruciating puns (LibLabCon, Bliar etc) and calling people who disagree with them ‘sheeple’ and ‘brainwashed’.
Suitable punishment – for Ukippers – forced to vote Green. For others, forced to leave house and breathe fresh air for a bit on a nice long walk.
Angrily fighting the good fight against stereotyping of men by threatening women with rape and calling all feminists ugly lesbians and bitches.
Suitable punishment – six months placement as voluntary worker at Kids Company with Camila Batmanghelidjh.
5. Professional trolls.
Saying controversial things for a job, like prostitution but without any of the dignity.
Oh you know who I mean, but here she is anyway:
Suitable punishment – having to do an actual, real job for ever (suggestion – fish-gutter) while everyone ignores them. NB we can ALREADY DO THIS SECOND ONE PEOPLE – GET IN!
6. Beavis / Butthead
The kind of people who follow Ed Miliband’s twitterfeed just to type ‘eff-off Beaker’ at EVERYTHING HE TWEETS. Who are these people and WHO do they think they are talking to?
Suitable punishment – unnecessary. Simply being this person is frankly punishment enough.
*otherwise lawyers would never make any money, and that would never never do.
**how many times, for example, would it be normal to have watched this video clip? I am asking for a friend: