Trolls to me have always represented FUN! Like those little characters that roll out of the rocks in the Frozen films or the ones with the florescent hair who like to dance to Justin Timberlake. Regardless, they are harmless. Recently (and I now realise naively) I shared a link on a local forum offering a free class to support mothers with Sex Education through a programme created following my decade in the Secondary PSHE classroom. I was not prepared for what ensued.
‘You with the sad eyes
Don’t be discouraged
Oh I realise
It’s hard to take courage.’
The intention in offering a female only class was never to exclude men but to honour women’s completely different lived experience, especially as sexual beings. The content was specifically tailored to meet the needs, complexities and anxieties of being female but as these things can so often go, someone/thing is misunderstood, taken out of context and the people pounce! Although utterly flabbergasted by the response, I met the mob with deep compassion, leaned deeply into Theodore Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena speech “it’s not the critic that counts,” cracked open the gluten free biscuits and watched the allegations fly.
‘In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small.’
For now it seems, exists another type of troll though these ones are more akin to the children’s fables of old. You know the type that like to hide under bridges, grab your ankles and pull you under – except now they hide behind their iPhone, grab your attention in the comments section and pull you under. Ironically these type of ankle accosters are completely protected facing zero consequences due to the anonymity the internet provides. “Never complain, never explain,” say the House of Windsor and whilst that is bloody good advice, it still hurt. I know this is not a reflection of how we live, so why is it ok to do it online? When did posting in a local forum become like entering the colosseum?
‘But I see your True Colours
I see your true colours
And that’s why I love you.’
Still I feel slightly shaky writing this, all too aware of the comments section lingering underneath the cyber publication of this piece. What if it all flares up again? Even now as I type someone is commenting on my choice of clothing (my LOVELY green wooly jumper gifted by my mother for Christmas) as an example of how I would never “get laid.” Studies by Stanford University (2017) state anyone has the potential to become a troll and if a discussion begins with a “troll comment,” then it is twice as likely to be trolled by other participants later on, compared to a discussion that does not start with a troll comment. The more troll comments in the dialogue, the more likely future participants will also troll the discussion. Those initial words set a strong lasting precedent. What we say or don’t say really does matter.
‘So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow.’
Don’t get me wrong local group forums have brought us many a wonderful thing. A sense of community, help finding lost animals and crucially the ability to promote and support local businesses. An invaluable source of connection especially giving the events of the last year. Although it has also brought us other things too whether its garden gnomes or roundabouts why do the comments so easily descend into dictio diarrhorea? When did it all get so polarised out there?
‘Show me a smile then
Don’t be unhappy, can’t remember
When I last saw you laughing’
It’s ok to believe something, and stand on one side, but what’s even more important than being “right” or “wrong” is to understand why someone feels the way they do, and why someone believes what they believe. People are smart, capable of thinking/examining information so just because somebody disagrees with you does not mean they are stupid, should be shut down or at worst cancelled (take note Silicon Valley). More than ever we need to respect and understand one another especially online were context can’t be so readily shared. Had you just met someone in the street would you say all those things to their face? Likely not.
‘If this world makes you crazy
And you’ve taken all you can bear
You call me up
Because you know I’ll be there’
I’ve had time to reflect, reminded of my time spent travelling Israel in 2012 lucky to have supper with a local man sharing insights on the tension and troubles in the West Bank. He said something that night which has stayed with me ever since “when people don’t know how to connect with love they connect with pain, as that’s better than no connection at all.” To be seen, heard, loved and understood is what the trolls crave (it’s actually what we all crave) they are just asking for it in all the worst ways!
True colours are shining through
I see your true colours
And that’s why I love you.’
So if you ever find yourself on local forum witnessing something/someone that you don’t like and are tempted say anything ranging from slightly unkind to darn right abusive, remember you have a choice. What you choose to do really does matter. That said, a wise man once wore a T Shirt that read “why be sexist, racist, homophobic or transphobic when you could just be quiet.”
Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper featured in the movie TROLLS.