Don’t feed the troll

With internet trolls fuelling a misogyny scandal after British female bloggers complained about rape threats online. Questions have to be asked why the internet allows horrible, vindictive little men (and it’s always men) to threaten radical female writers with gang rape and murder.

Trolls are traditionally perceived as sexually inadequate men living in their mother’s basements. Deeply unhappy they unleash their frustrations out on the anonymous playing fields of the internet, revelling in the attention that otherwise eludes them in real life.

Everyone needs feedback after all, especially lonely young men with right-wing prejudices. Feeling that one has an impact on this world is enough to make a troll feel happy when he retires to his Thomas the Tank Engine duvet covers.

However, it is far too easy to blame the rampant levels of misogyny and abuse on marginalised sections of society. As the majority of abusive comments are composed by seemingly upstanding citizens with families, friends and surprisingly well-paid jobs.

Almost all newspapers are full of deranged comments by readers posting under alpha-numeric pseudonyms. Usually they are one-eyed political nerds parroting their respective party’s views. Unrepresentative of the population at large, they get their voices heard by shouting the loudest.

But like those who enjoy hard drugs and unprotected sex, there is something viscerally thrilling about participating in such terrible behaviour. For people have always derived pleasure from eliciting reactions in others. Getting a rise out of someone is exciting. Classrooms, pubs and workplaces are full of characters that like to goad, provoke and cajole their friends into a reaction.

Socially rewarding and always entertaining, the darker side of provocation can be found on the internet. In this anonymous fantasy land, the risk of being held to account is virtually eliminated. Stripped of all social responsibility the trolls are able to throw muck at their respective targets without fear of reproach.

Female bloggers are subject to disproportionate levels of abuse for commenting on serious issues like economics and world affairs. Writing in the New Statesman several female writers, of all political persuasions, have highlighted examples of the gender-based hatred they are subjected to on a daily basis. Sex is frequently used by trolls as a means of teaching feminists a lesson.

Belittled for being ‘ugly’ and ‘disgusting’, male trolls have threatened to bayonet, torture and rape female writers at bus stops. Exorcising their base lusts and repressed sexual fantasies, anonymous men with laptops and smartphones, instead of engaging fairly with the substance of the argument, subject female bloggers to sordid levels of abuse.

All journalists receive aggressive criticism but radical women in particular are torn to shreds by the lowest-common denominator. What is perhaps most shocking is the mistaken assumption that society has progressed beyond this type of behaviour.

As social media becomes increasingly mainstream and not just the domain of the urban middle-classes, there is a horrifying realisation that beneath the surface of civility, anonymous trolls are shedding a new light on the darker side of human nature. It’s a sad state of affairs that in the twenty-first century, a feminist writer won’t really have ‘made it’ until she is abused by men who probably tortured worms in their childhood.

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