A woman called Charlotte Dawson, who whose existence I was blissfully unaware of until she managed to get herself in a “Twitter War” – there’s few lamer phrases going around – with a bunch of people, including someone who should know better. Dawson ended up in hospital and the whole thing sparked a minor media frenzy.
Then rugby league type Robbie Farah, again somebody I’d never heard of, cranked things up after a “troll” said nasty things about his Mum. Turns out Robbie had forgotten the first rule of the Internet: you’ve probably said something pretty off-colour yourself at some point. And it lives on the Internet forever. Like implying the Prime Minister should kill herself. Or be killed.
We’ve had it in the AFL too. Sam Lonergan came under siege after his involvement in the incident that put Andrew Carazzo out for a few months. Then there’s the Mifsud stuff, not to mention the legendary St Kilda Schoolgirl, who trolled Nick Riewoldt and Nick Dal Santo in a truly spectacular fashion.
What can we do about this scourge? Nothing. That’s right, absolutely nothing.
England footballers Ashley Young and Ashley Cole received racist abuse on Twitter after missing vital penalties in Euro 2012. Then there was the incident where a guy called Liam Stacey made racist comments about Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba was jailed for it.
This isn’t an Australian thing. The lesson is clear: as long there is social media and sports stars – celebrities in general – there’s going to be trolling.
So why do we need to #StopTheTrolls as the Daily Telegraph wants us to? Why does our government need to get involved?
Let’s be honest here. There’s a really good way to avoid being trolled on social media. And that is by not being on it. Some sports people seek to use social media for financial advantage – build the brand. They are fair game in my book.
Others do it because they enjoy it. This is where it gets more difficult. These people do have a right to use social media without being harassed. But they can simply block users or ignore their comments. Footballers cop plenty of abuse from crowds when they play and block it out. It isn’t like it is beyond them.
The reality is that there’s there’s trolling and there’s trolling. People troll by and large because they think it is funny, or get off on it at some level. And what they write is indeed funny to some people.
Take John McCarthy’s tragic death in Las Vegas this week.
Some Americans thought it funny. The comments on this article indicate so.
I have great sympathy for McCarthy and his family. For a young man to die so young is a tragedy.
At the same time, if I look at it entirely objectively, AMagicianName’s comment on the story of:
“A helmet and pads sound pretty good now don’t they, Crocodile Dundee?”
Well, yeah, it is tasteless. But it is kind of witty too. And you can be sure Australian fans have made equally tasteless remarks about Americans. In fact, on that very thread, Aussie Rules fans felt the need to invoke the September 11 anniversary “in revenge” for the insult on McCarthy’s memory.
Thus trolling occurs because mocking the deaths of innocent people who preferred to die from impact injuries after jumping off a building rather than burn to death is funny. Or worthy of use to defend “one of ours”. Isn’t it?
We live in a world where, if we’re on social media, we routinely interact with people we’ve never met. And not all these people will be nice. Just as if we went round inviting random strangers to interact with us.
But social media doesn’t make people act like idiots. It just gives them an increased opportunity to do so if they already have it in them.
Plenty of fun is had on the Internet by making fun of people and events. We’ve all told or laughed at a “too soon” joke in the wake of some tragedy. Doing it online is just an extension of that.
At the end of the day, it is the Internet. Threatening someone with physical harm over the Internet is an offence. But for threats to constitute a genuine issue that requires police attention needs more than just saying “You deserve to die” to a player who has broken one of your boys’ legs.
Making fun of their personal or career misfortune isn’t illegal though. As long as it isn’t defamatory, being a bit of an arsehole is legal. It’s not exactly classy but hey, we knew that about our fellow humans anyway, didn’t we?