Wednesday, 21 March 2012

On Trolls

Trolling is in the news at the moment – and rightly so – and it was only last night that I was saying that I didn’t know how Dan Hodges coped with the level of abuse he gets.

Well, today, I came in for a modicum of abuse myself, so – for reasons which will become clear – I thought I’d tell you about it.
You’re quite welcome to think that you would have dealt with things differently to me, but I hope that, whatever, you’ll perhaps be able to learn from my experience how you will deal with it if/when it happens to you.

The danger of possessing a stick with a horse’s head handle
Now, to be fair, I brought it upon myself.
It was in the moments after the budget. I was feeling smug with myself because I had made a tweet which had been multiply-re-tweeted.

And then I read the following tweet which appeared on my twitter-feed (it had been re-tweeted by someone I follow):
James Max @thejamesmax
Poor @Ed_Miliband sounds like a broken record. Fact is it's the millionaires of which he speaks so disparagingly who are paying for his mess

Now I know – as Mr Max has since pointed out to me – that ‘I started it’.
I realise that I was poking the lion in the ear.
But really!
Given that most of the people who read my blog are lefty-inclined, they will understand why I reacted to that!

James Max is a TV and radio presenter who makes a living out of ‘going head-to-head’ with the big noises of the Left.
When he makes a statement, in the public domain, as controversial (and frankly as muddle-headed) as this, it can surely be argued that he was WANTING people to react.

And so I did:
John D Clare @JohnDClare
@thejamesmax @ANOther Congratulations on a truly gobsmacking lack of grasp on reality.

I thought it was quite droll, and it most certainly is not abuse, is it!
Then I logged off and got on with my job (my job as a writer, not my job as a councillor).

You will see that I have hidden the name of the other participant. To be fair to him, he is a pleasant person whom I have followed good-naturedly for some time, and what followed was totally out-of-character.

Nevertheless, when I got back, this is what I found:
James Max @thejamesmax
Are you referring to me? @JohnDClare Or @ANOther ? Because if you are, perhaps you'd like to explain why you think that.

James Max @thejamesmax
Actilually [sic]. Stop. Having read your twitter feed @JohnDClare Spare @ANOther and myself from your ideologically driven claptrap.

AN Other @ANOther
@thejamesmax @JohnDClare - I re tweeted you, so I assume it is your good self he is referring to,

James Max @thejamesmax
haha thank you @ANOther but I can assure @JohnDClare that I am very rooted in reality. I work in the real world as opposed to the psb.

AN Other @ANOther
@thejamesmax oh that "real world" the one which @JohnDClare feels should pay for everything...

James Max @thejamesmax
@ANOther @JohnDClare including for his pension. Which I'd guess is probably a final salary version.

AN Other @ANOther
@thejamesmax @JohnDClare - well of course, the state owes him a living I expect.

James Max @thejamesmax
@ANOther @JohnDClare but I'm not sure he's grasped twitter. Just trolls out abuse and doesn't bother to engage.

If you read this exchange between Mr Max and my erstwhile twitter-friend you will see it roll in a succession of mutually back-scratching statements
- from a simple challenge (‘perhaps you'd like to explain why you think that’),
- to a dismissal (‘Spare @ANOther and myself from your ideologically driven claptrap’)
- to an impersonal negative assumption about my beliefs (‘that "real world" ... which @JohnDClare feels should pay for everything’)
- to a negative personal allegation about my circumstances (‘including for his pension. Which I'd guess is probably a final salary version’)
- to pure and simple personal abuse (‘well of course, the state owes him a living I expect’ … ‘[He] just trolls out abuse and doesn't bother to engage’).

Pause for reflection
During all of this, I had not even been present to say a single word but – between you and me – I probably would have not said anything anyway. As I have said before, twitter is a dreadful forum for debate. It’s a place for sharing ideas and making statements, not for debating.
I am aware that Mr Max was asking me to explain why I thought his statement was ridiculous … but equally he had offered no explanation for his assertion that it was the millionaires who were paying for the deficit.

What do you do when you are confronted with abusive tweets?
People like Dan Hodges and others re-tweet them as a badge of honour.
I, on the other hand, am a retired schoolteacher with no political career to make.
So I decided to get out:
John D Clare @JohnDClare
@thejamesmax @ANOther You are both unnecessarily rude, and ignorant of my situation. But please carry on reassuring each other.

(To be fair, I am unhappy with the final sentence, which could be misinterpreted, but that’s what I say about twitter as a medium of dialogue … you only have 140 characters, so everything you say is clipped and disjointed.)

Anyway, I said what I said.
I was peeved by the exchange, but neither angered nor upset – anybody who is in small-town politics will appreciate that I have suffered much more venomous abuse in the local free newspaper.
And poor Dan Hodges, Owen Jones and Co. will tell you that what I ‘got’ was small fry stuff compared to what is out there.

I was, however, deeply disappointed at the eagerness with which my former twitter-‘friend’ had joined in with Mr Max … and even topped him.
So I sent a second tweet to him:
John D Clare @JohnDClare
@ANOther Actually, I am disappointed in you, Mr Nother - I thought you kinder. Anyway, I have disengaged now. Best wishes and goodbye.

And I unfollowed him. (To be fair to Mr Nother, he has apologised. He is a nice man. But the damage has been done, hasn’t it.)

At this point I went off to do my other job (I went to a council meeting).

When an end is not the end
Now wouldn’t you have thought that an important media-presenter would have had more to do than pursue little me?
Not a bit of it.
When I returned from my Council meeting, this is what I found:
James Max @thejamesmax
To be fair @JohnDClare you started it! @ANOther Merely commented. I responded to your tweet asking for further detail.

and then!
James Max @thejamesmax
So @JohnDClare you achieved a textbook "troll", berated @ANOther and myself and then left. Seagull management style. Delightful.

Oh for goodness sake!
Forgive me, but I for all the world was under the impression that – certainly after my original tweet – it was me who was being abused.
And to be labelled a ‘textbook troll’ who had 'berated' him rather left me open-mouthed.

I suppose that you, good reader, can decide for yourself who was being rude.

So what have I learned?

1. Sometimes it’s best not to poke a lion in the ear!

2. When you post in a public forum, you are liable to get a reply from any nutcase from anywhere in the world and they may decide to pursue you.

3. Twitter is not a good place for expressing yourself clearly, and it is certainly a poor medium for debate – when you try to ‘engage’, you simply appear a nasty piece of work.

4. ‘Trolling’ may be an internet evil, but it is also a meaningless abuse-word to hurl carelessly at someone who has irritated you.

5. There is a danger that you get to feel you ‘know’ the people you meet on twitter and facebook, but you need always to remember that you don’t actually know them at all.

6. Always leave a way of escape. You can, like I did, ‘unfollow’ someone who is not being nice – and remember that, if someone continues to pursue you, you can block them.

7. Finally, it is worth noting that the law on this kind of thing is going to sharpen up, so we all might do well to watch our words.

And Mr Max?
He just let himself down today, spoiling for a fight where there wasn’t one.
Perhaps he’ll be nicer to the next person.
At least I have now explained myself to him.

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