BY TIM DAWSON
My trolls and I have one thing in common – we love talking about me. As a Conservative, I’ve attracted my fair share of abuse and vitriol. It’s to be expected. It’s a part of life that, if you stick your head above the parapet, somebody’s going to shoot at it. Threats, graphic sexual remarks, missives to friends. It’s all there in its anonymous glory. However, whilst it is tempting to point out the questionable legality of some online trolling, it’s more socially important to understand that people who feel hate towards strangers and attack them on the internet are often, sadly, unwell.
Alcoholism, broken marriages and failed career expectations regularly accompany their wrath. The midnight hours and the loneliness therein only serve to stoke the fires of their “hard done by” attitude. Which is why the worst of their spite-filled pecking occurs at night – usually after the pubs shut. I will describe the typical troll that I encounter on a daily basis. They are mid to late forties men. They have had a bloom of success early on – often in a creative field or similar. Early promise has then not been fulfilled. They find themselves in dead end jobs or local broadcasting or, perhaps, working at one of our less auspicious universities. Their feeds often make reference to mental illness – retweets of Matt Haig (whom, despite our political differences, I rather admire) or allusions to their anti-depressant medication. There is, of course, nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to mental illness. When it becomes a problem is when you start taking out your own troubles on people you’ve never met.
Aggressive trolling is particularly popular on the hard left, and understandably so. Their militant socialism is the product of their own failure. They see a world which has ignored them, passed them by despite their talents, and they feel understandably aggrieved – and therefore wish to bring down everybody whom they perceive as doing better than them. It’s easy to find an excuse: perhaps those people went to a better school, or a better university. Perhaps they come from a wealthier background. Perhaps they’re what the troll despises the most – a modest person who has done well thanks to their own efforts.
Their behaviour is often disturbing. Online trolling is difficult to police and, as someone who prizes freedom of speech, it can be hard to know where to draw the line. When does the passionate politico morph into the troll? The answer is when the contact becomes obsessive, or begins to move beyond attempts at direct interaction into other aspects of their target’s lives. Another feature is constructing incidents that didn’t actually happen: “I have loads of Dawson’s right wing tweets but this is an example”. Cue quote tweet of some innocuous joke.
I recently, against Police advice, reached out to one of my trolls, who’d been badgering me online for some time. He’s based in the same city as me, so I suggested we meet. He refused and blocked me. He believed that I wished to write about him in an article, to use his great celebrity as to further my own career. This is not rational behaviour – particularly not from adults. Think of someone you know who you consider mentally healthy. Now imagine if you found them obsessively tweeting at a stranger about the same topic repeatedly and for months, if not years – what is your opinion of them now? Why are they doing this? At first it might seem like a joke amongst their peers; they may get some much needed validation from a couple of retweets or likes. But soon enough, like the dog in the pack that rolls itself in shit repeatedly, the other dogs realise their packmate is weird and back off.
It was recently revealed that the people to receive the most online abuse were white Conservative men. I can believe this, although the women I know seem to receive their fair share of trolling. It is easy to be enervated, but we should feel sorry for anyone who spends their time harassing others.
I look forward to my trolls quote-tweeting this article at each other. Hi, guys.
After launching himself into a successful screenwriting career with BBC3 comedy ‘Coming of Age’, which was commissioned when he was just 19 years old, Tim Dawson became ‘Broadcast Hot Shot’ in the 2008 Industry Magazine. Whilst he saw his TV series run for three successful seasons (2007-2011) he also lent his hand to writing for ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’ starring Ralf Little and star of stage and screen Sheridan Smith. He has written for The Telegraph and The Spectator.