There’s been much discussion in Australia this week about cyber-bullying, abusive tweeting and trolls, brought on by some particularly nasty tweets about Rugby League player Robbie Farah’s mother and the online hounding of television personality Charlotte Dawson.
Some politicians have jumped on the bandwagon of public outrage and have been arguing that social media outlets such as FaceBook and Twitter have a responsibility to gag those who use their services to post abusive, racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise objectionable comments. No details are supplied as to how this is supposed to happen, but it makes the politicians seem to be doing their job.
Others contend that the beauty of cyberspace is that it lets everyone have their say. Before the invention of the web, public comment was limited to elite Media Types – those whose opinions were acceptable to a mainstream proprietor willing to give them coverage. Now every monkey with a keyboard can publish a rant. If you support free speech, the argument goes, you must support this right for the ignorant, the stupid, the bigoted and those whose opinions you find distasteful.
This blog of mine is usually innocuous enough not to attract nasty invective. Most threats of violence I ever receive come from close family members. But I have occasionally received a blog comment sprinkled with the compulsory expletives, bad spelling, misused apostrophes and capital letters, along the lines of ‘Your a F*&$WIT, you F@#$ING C&@T!!!!’
So far I’ve regarded it as a natural consequence of putting writing into the public domain. Over the years I’ve had enough rejection notes from publishers and bad reviews for my plays to have developed a little epidermal thickness. I can’t say I enjoy the abusive comments, unlike a fellow blogger who was delighted to be visited by her first troll. Someone had taken her blog seriously enough to be offended. And a hit was a hit!
A nice thing about blogging is that I can be my own moderator. If a blog comment is simple abuse, a plug for some irrelevant product or website, or totally incoherent, I can choose not to publish it. This very seldom happens.
When someone sends me reasoned criticism of a post or can persuade me that I have my facts wrong, the comment will be published. If upon checking I find the criticism is justified I’ll correct my post. I’ll do this even if the comment has a misplaced apostrophe.
It seems the major problem with cyber-bullying is that it can be done anonymously. In the good old days of Letters to the Editor, newspapers only published correspondence if the writer’s name and address could be verified. Some websites require similar registration before comment is allowed, which is a good start in my opinion. You are free to say what you like, but the reader is entitled to know who is saying it.
Of course it’s easy to invent a pseudonym or false email address. But bear in mind, trolls, if you’re too cowardly to put your real name to your views, your opinions will not be taken seriously and neither will you.
How common is the troll on the blog experience? How do other bloggers deal with it?