Dancing with trolls: could feminists ‘kill off’ the enemy with a bit of kindness?

Guardian

If there’s one thing that terrifies most people, it’s fear of the unknown. Horror films prey on the human ability to be spooked by mystical entities that do not rear their heads, yet make their presence known.

Perhaps that’s why we’re all so scared of Twitter trolls. The person throwing stones from the other side of the computer can seem far more threatening than they really are.

The Guardian’s feminist brigade has given an unprecedented amount of attention to trolls in recent years, yesterday bringing out a video to shed light on this digitally-savvy enemy. Footage features peeved female journalist after peeved female journalist reading out nasty messages they’ve received from angry keyboard-tappers:

‘A bit of rape never harmed anyone’, spews one.

‘Kill yourself, c-nt nugget’, says another.

They’re not the only individuals to campaign. Caroline Criado-Perez regularly appears in the paper waxing lyrical about her ambitions to fight trolls.

Don’t get me wrong, as a possessor of two X chromosomes, I’m vexed by the nature of some of these messages. But from my own experience with trolling, I can’t help but feel we’re giving too much airtime to a group that has extremely limited intellectual credibility.

What you find, if you really start to examine trolling behaviour, is that far from being a menacing group of individuals, most of them are surprisingly inarticulate. Having published things on the internet, what I found most poignant about being attacked was not the horror of someone being rude to me, but just how grammatically inept they were as they slung their mud.

Trolls are a sort of terrorist – albeit not that dangerous – in that they are desperately keen for attention, but a bit uncertain about how to get it. Perhaps because they lack the literacy skills to compete with Criado-Perez et al, they take the easy route to getting noticed. Being a pain. Far from fearing or being angry with Twitter trolls, feminists might do better to pity this academically inferior group.

I have found that, like with babies when they throw their things out of the pram, trolls’ temper tantrums can be alleviated not by being ignored, or ticked off, but with a bit of TLC. When I have engaged with members of the cantankerous community on Twitter, Reddit and even the forum of my own blog, I find they quietly pipe down with a bit of attention. They just want to be loved, and most of all: noticed.

Feminists are noticing the trolls at the moment, but they are in dangerous territory of justifying a number of complaints against women (‘we cry easily’, type thing) by shrivelling into victims as soon as a Reddit user hurls some jumbled up swearwords at one of us.

We could learn – as they know in many service industries – that there is a certain amount of truth to the idiom ‘kill it with kindness’. Engaging with, and indulging, trolls to a certain extent can extinguish their flames of fury and also help to reinforce that we’re the ones in control.

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