Offbeat 03 July 2015

Once upon a time, when the world was still full of stories, not television, there were trolls. Trolls were portrayed as solitary creatures, half human and half monster.

They were generally unpleasant in nature, ate humans and demanded money to cross bridges. I had a fondness for their appearance in stories: whenever they showed up, something exciting was bound to happen.
The new variant of the troll is somewhat lest exciting, and quite able to make life unpleasant, even without a human-sized frying pan. Say hello to the internet troll.
Social media, my virtual reality, is normally a fairly happy place for me, filled with thoughts. It alleviates my intense need not to mix with flesh-and-blood humans on a regular basis, other than brief forays to the local pub, once or twice a week. That changed this week.
My virtual existence mirrors my real life existence. I ‘stay at home’, mostly on my own space, where I post my own goodies, and allow friends to look in with comments and likes. I check in on the pages of people who interest me fairly regularly though, but leaving my home ground has a way of being depressing. The world out there is filled with quotes, emotional sob stories and other boring stuff that you can see time and time again.
And sometimes people spin out of control in ugly ways.
In the last two weeks, I made sallies into the broader world of social media again, by joining at least one group. I did it out of renewed curiosity, and misplaced need to interact with a wider variety of people. It was a mistake. What I came across was hordes of trolls.
I should be grateful for the experience, but I am not. I came across things that tempt me to leave social media, or at least reduce my presence to the point where it becomes meaningless.
The most obvious thing was a vast amount of direct racism. There was ‘skin-colour’ racism, ethnic or tribal racism, and even geopolitical racism, because ‘my hemisphere or continent is better than your hemisphere or continent’. My mind boggles.
There was also a healthy component of acceptance of racism. You don’t have to nurture racist slurs by uttering the words yourself. You can be as racist by accepting or associating with statements. I also saw one shockingly violent statement made towards a woman. Misogyny is alive and well, unfortunately. To their credit, one group deleted offensive members, while I visited.
Vicious, unthinking attacks are not uniquely Namibian, racist or misogynist though. Various groups that I glimpse in my periphery are also plagued by internet trolls: international writers and gamers groups suffer from the same thing, for instance, and I am sure there are even cookery groups which are plagued by the same thing.
The point that I am getting to is that the issues and causes are not particularly important. In fact they are beside the point. The sick, unreasoned and violent anger of individuals is the thing that needs to be thought about. An internet troll can latch onto any random topic, and start spewing bile and poisoning the well.
It doesn’t matter what your tribe is, or the colour of your skin, or ideas in your story, or your gender as you play a game, until someone uses it as an opportunity to attack, and you give credence to it. Because you give credence to it, open yourself to the conflict, you open the way for the fundamentally damaged internet troll to spill more personal hatred into the well. Because of involvement in the secondary fracas, there is a very limited opportunity to get something productive done to solve things.
At least a week of my life has been soured by internet trolls spilling poison into the cybersphere. I didn’t have to engage with them to feel their own sick blight.
It appears that I should take on the aspect of a bridge troll, though without a large frying pan. There are times when I really want nothing to do with humanity, to retreat on my own and chase people out of my life. This is one of them. But that would be admitting defeat to losers.


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