The news that Sean Duffy has been jailed for “trolling” is reverberating around the Interweb with varying reactions. From Toby Young Loathsome though they are, Internet ‘trolls’ should not be sent to prison to Tech Digest’s “Duffy was a particularly spiteful troll” “Needless to say, the internetz won’t miss him.” they end. And they’re right.
I’m with Tech Digest, Duffy took trolling too far, but the mainstream media seem to have got it wrong. The BBC says that trolling is an anonymous pursuit, which is just wrong.
Trolling is the internet equivalent of winding someone or anyone up. Anonymity isn’t required.
Every 1st of April newspapers put out spoof stories which are designed to capture people into believing them so as to either get them angry or make them laugh. A few years ago the Currant Bun did an article suggesting the police had trained eagles to catch speeding motorists, I left a copy on the bar of my local pub, amazing how many people fell for it. The Irish Times suggested once that having banned smoking in pubs the government intended to ration how much alcohol people could drink per week to an obvious reaction.
That’s not anonymous, it is winding people up, but it’s not done callously. It’s also not illegal.
Almost everyone who has been online for a decent period of time will have tried to wind others up. That’s trolling. Is it all illegal?
On various sites where I’ve known people in real life I’ve trolled them or been trolled by them and then gone for a drink with them later. I wouldn’t drink with them if what they were doing was illegal (unless they were buying).
How about this, going on to a tourist site about Amsterdam and asking with regard to red light girls “So why do you visit them? Can you not pull real girls? Are you ugly or do you just lack self esteem?”
That’s definitely trolling (it’s okay I know the site owner, he’ll understand).
And it is done slightly, very slightly, callously.
But that’s it, that’s what it’s all about. The degree of callous. The difference, if you like, between taking taking a mars bar and robbing someone at gunpoint.
Sean Duffy was callous. He chose the emotionally weak and vulnerable as his target and callously hurt people in their grief. He deserves what he gets. But it doesn’t make all trolling wrong, as such. It’s about knowing whether, when someone realises they’re being trolled they’ll laugh it off, or if they won’t whether they’ll press charges.
[This is for the normal meaning of troll, not the meaning whereby someone disagrees with the polemicist.]
Edit: Some further thoughts:
If this were a Muslim making similar comments on a site paying tribute to our dead troops would those defending Sean Duffy defend the Muslim?
What about Kia Abdullah? Who is defending Duffy and was offended by her?