Let's enter the confessional shall we. I've always liked the idea of airing my sins.
Once, several years ago, I wrote a snarky comment on someone's blog. It was one of those aspirational lifestyle blogs in which a woman makes money from good bone structure and a willingness to wear a bikini on the internet. And I don't know what happened, let's blame it on a bad day, but I just thought, fuck you and your success, I'm going to make an utterly unnecessary remark about this unjust situation. If I remember rightly, I said something along the lines of: "Don't you ever have to work?"
Not the most heinous comment the internet's had to contend with, but it was indicative of something pretty bleak lodged in my soul; the internet had brought out my darkness. Embarrassed to admit I was quite enjoying the blog, I felt the need to attack it. The next day I was filled with remorse, but mostly, with shame.
There's nothing sadder or more shameful than a troll. But most of us harbour the impulses that lead to trolldom. We follow people that we find annoying. We stare at people who we "love to hate". Most of us don't bombard the victims of our secret disdain with hateful comments, but if we wrote down the thoughts in our head they'd sound pretty sour. And yet we go back for more. We voluntarily read and look at things that annoy us, when all we really have to do is just - not look. But not looking at trash on the internet is like trying not to gawk at a car crash.
The internet has provided our troll-y thoughts with a place to call home. Most people manage to resist the call to put their thoughts to the page but many people apparently cannot. The comment section under any piece of journalism is a trove of nastiness.
The first time I wrote a piece on the internet I received, not exactly a torrent, but a small trickle of abuse. The piece was about my time as a lawyer and the commentators told me I couldn't write, was talking a load of utter rubbish and was clearly an idiot. Perhaps they were right (only joking, they were obvs wrong) and I was thrilled by the attention (everyone knows boys are mean when they fancy you, right?) but why were they bothering to harass me? What was in it for them?
I love a bit of hearty debate as much as the next woman but there are fewer skillful arguments to be found in comment sections than there are coloured gowns at the Golden Globes.
It got me thinking. The site I wrote my piece for was aimed at lawyers and most of the people commenting were presumably the sorts of people I used to work with. People who, on the face of it, don't spend their time flinging bile at strangers on the internet. In short: THE TROLLS WALK AMONG US.
It seems too simplistic to say that all trolls are nasty people, or complete weirdos. Evidence, including my own shameful tale, suggests that a proportion are normal people. Which makes the sheer level of vindictiveness even more alarming. Is a troll made, or is a troll born? Do we all secretly hate each other?
P.s. There is a South Park episode in which Kyle's dad becomes a troll which neatly encapsulated my suspicion that the trolls walk among us (and are probably someone's dad)... http://southpark.wikia.com/wiki/Skank_Hunt