The Martyrdom of the Famous – Trolling Matters when it Happens to Famous People

This past week the Twitter echo chamber has been alive with the sound of Trolling. Or at least people talking about trolling. For those who are frequent users of Twitter, internet forums or blogs, trolling is a constant presence. I used to be a member of a forum that discussed TV – as well as politics. I was constantly trolled, threatened and the like for having progressive views about politics and the environment. I took them seriously until I realised that the trolls were sad little people with no power who, frilled necked lizard style, puffed themselves up to look threatening.

The same has gone for people who tweet / blog / write about politics – constant trolling / threats and the like for a while now. With what is a blight on our society, some of the trolls have been vicious and have had a deep and lasting impact on people who attempt to make a difference in society. We saw two good pieces about such people in the last week. David Paris wrote about this well in the new Limited News. Helen Razer’s horrific stalking / trolling experience also provides pause for those unlucky enough to have their real lives interrupted and ruined as a result of having a media profile. Razer’s experience is one that shows us how serious and damaging trolling can become.

What is annoying, however, is that every so often, trolling is said to be vitally important and a concern – but only when it happens to really famous people. Those celebrities and politicians who don’t really tweet that much suddenly seeing what the rest of us non celebrities see on a daily basis. While I appreciate that Charlotte Dawson has gone through a rough time she didn’t deserve, it seems that the act of trolling is really only worthy of attention when it happens to famous people. The usual media and politicians pile in, blaming “anonymous” people on The Twitter – these same people showing that they have no understanding of how to use Twitter to block, report and ignore the trolls. How people can ask others to join in on the blocking and reporting.

So then come the torrent of articles and the like telling us that Trolling is Bad, people. The most laughable example of this was The Age bringing Catherine Deveny back from exile, saying how she deals with trolls. While I agree with a number of her points – including how to use Twitter to block them – she isn’t a good example of how to act on Twitter. Her schtick as a comedian and writer is to stir up people with outrageous comments and blanket statements (well, trolling). Many people I know stopped following her a while ago for that reason – she seems to like the negative reactions. This is why The Age are showing how out of touch they are, asking people like Deveny for feelpinions about trolling. It’s lazy work, finding a tweeter notorious for getting negative reactions. It’s the same when the ABC’s PM program asks Tommy Tudehope for his opinion as a “Social Media Expert”. Out of touch.

Fortunately, the echo chamber will die down on this trolling business – just as it will with that other pointless exercise of getting Alan Jones to recant his misogyny or have advertisers withdraw support because he is expressing the same views he has expressed for a very long time. The trolling will continue to non-famous people – and will damage people who don’t realise that there are sick people out there who are seeking attention. It will also damage those who aren’t used to any kind of attention, especially not negative attention. Then, every so often, when it happens to a famous person – the news, the blogosphere and the twitterati will participate in a circular wringing of hands for a few days.

As T.S. Eliot might have said

Let us go then online, you and I,
When the twitter feed is spread out against the screen
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted hashtags,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights on #auspol and #qanda
And Instagram photos from restaurants with oyster-shells:
Tweets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question. . .
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Destroying the Joint.

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