As they say in hip-hop, 'haters gonna hate' and as they say on the internet, 'trolls gonna troll.' It's been a big week for trolls; all those countless thousands of people who vent their frustrations anonymously online. Hopefully, the online community will now be less tolerant of people posting hurtful comments for no apparent reason. Of course, there's a difference between 'having a joke' and being hurtful. A joke is fair enough, but where do you draw the line? At school they used to say 'I was only joking!' wasn't an excuse for bullying. By its very nature, a joke from a bully to a victim is unlikely to be found funny by the latter; it's unlikely they'll share a sense of humour as it's the very differences which distinguish the two groups that the bully seeks to 'joke' about. The rule then, as in most of life, seems to be 'don't be an idiot.' If you're thinking of sending rape threats on Twitter, it should be pretty obvious to most that 'idiot' is not a strong enough word for you.
Another trolling incident this week saw GQ become swamped with abuse from One Direction fans after supposed slights in the way the magazine portrayed the band. Clearly One Direction have a huge and devoted fan base and it'd be impossible to please them all. GQ.com published some of the best responses from 1D fans and, reading them from the safety of my own home, they made me laugh. There were threats of violence, but so cartoonish were the descriptions of these acts that all sense of reality, and thus worry, was lost. However, there's always the chance that maybe there's that one person in a 1,000 with the capability to follow through on their threats.
So, despite their supposedly malicious intent, the tweets of angry One Direction fans have been shrugged off. But, what is wrong with people, with trolls, that make them think they can say whatever they like to someone just because they're online? Clearly trolling is nothing new, you just have to take a look at any YouTube video, Tumblr feed or comments section of an online publication to see this. Technological advances have meant a large part of our lives is now lived out online. How much we choose to engage with this online community is, of course, up to the individual, but it'd be difficult to ignore it all together. Only yesterday, a friend told me she was sending me a painting and I had to display it on my wall. My first thoughts were that she wanted me to upload a picture to Facebook. It's ridiculous, but it's the way we're starting to think.
Another source of trolling, or at least some not very considered commentary, is the Amazon review section. Occasionally, I'll check to see if my novel has collected any more reviews, and each time I scroll down the page is terrifying. There's nothing that makes your heart lurch more than a two star review. Thankfully there are many, many more positive reviews to balance this out. I'm proud of my novel. Not in an arrogant way, but it took me a long time to write and so I appreciate people's responses. Imagine you've just spent twenty minutes crafting the perfect sandwich- you've got chicken, bacon, tomato, avocado - and you turn to your friend and say, 'Look what I've made, doesn't it look delicious?' Well if they shrug their shoulders indifferently, or even suggest, 'Well, I would have put some BBQ sauce on it' it's only natural to feel a bit of disappointment. So you can see why someone missing the point of something that took you a number of years to create can be frustrating.
Clearly, the odd negative comment on a book does not equate to rape threats or death threats, but it is another example of pointless trolling. Another point to acknowledge is that not everybody finds the same things enjoyable. Fantastic. Diversity is what makes the world so complex and interesting. If you don't like my book, that's fair enough. Thank you for taking the time to read it. However, I have to wonder about the motivations of people who will go out of their way to write empty comments as a sort of personal exorcism.
Criticism is great and without it there'd be a lot less motivation for humans to push themselves and keep coming up with better films, better ways of farming, better cars and better air travel, but empty, meaningless remarks don't help anyone. And if the authors of such remarks are being honest, it doesn't help them either. People who make death threats to a magazine will still be annoyed after sending a tweet about what they'd like to do with a chainsaw. People who send rape threats will still have their troubles and people who leave comments on other people's work will still have a chip on their shoulder.
There's so much more to life than giving your opinion on someone else's work. It's sunny outside, right now. So, let's all take a break for a moment, turn off our computers, go outside and learn to interact as human beings again. Let's all spend a day being nice to people, striking up random conversations and smiling at strangers in the street, then, when we go back inside and log into Facebook or Twitter, maybe we'll remember that smile and think twice before being so reckless with our hatred.
Follow Tom Ward on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TomWardWrites