When I was a kid in primary school I got picked on all the time. Looking back, I don’t really blame them: after all, I did sport a strange centre parting and fringe combination, and a huge pair of gold-rimmed glasses covered the majority of my face. But still, I was bullied. And it hurt.
My parents, because they love me, spoke to my teachers, who spoke to the bullies, who didn’t do anything differently. In the end, I was pretty much told to ignore the bullies and they’d go away. They didn’t.
Fast-forward fifteen years, and bullying is still rife – not against me, thankfully (in secondary school I’d ditched the hairstyle and glasses and was therefore relatively popular), but on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Except they’re not called bullies any more, but ‘trolls’: people who purposefully say inflammatory and offensive things in order to provoke a reaction.
Where the line between ‘voicing an opinion’ and ‘trolling’ lies, no-one really knows. I suppose it depends on the sensitivity and thick-skinnedness of the person on the receiving end. I’ve been called many things on Twitter from people who don’t like what I’ve written: words like ‘misogynist’, ‘bully’, ‘feminist-hater’, and – my personal favourite – ‘the highest t****r in all the land’. I’ve had entire blog posts dedicated to how much the blogger dislikes me. Is this trolling? Dunno, really. To be honest, I don’t much care.
Today is #twittersilence, the brainchild of someone who shall remain anonymous in case I get accused of hating women again. The basic premise is this: it’s the stupidest idea in the world. It’s also an excuse for celebrities, journalists and author-types to make the agonising personal sacrifice of not tweeting a thousand times a day and therefore ruining the quality of life for the rest of us, of course. I can just picture them now, eyeing their laptop or iPad from across the room, fingers desperate to punch out something witty. “How will the rest of Twitter survive without us?” they mumble to themselves. “They need our valuable insights and hilarious wordsmithery in order to survive!” (On behalf of the rest of us: we’re doing just fine, thanks.)
And then they resist, smug in the knowledge that by not tweeting (and therefore, of course, giving everyone else the WORST SUNDAY EVER), they are doing a Very Good Thing. “I took part in the Twitter Silence,” they can proudly tell their colleagues on Monday, who will probably just snort derisively at them and carry on doing something genuinely productive. And then they’ll write in national publications about how they stayed quiet for one whole day, and pick up a nice lump of cash in the process which they will probably not donate to a charity which supports those who are the victims of bullying.
Ignoring bullies and trolls achieves nothing. #twittersilence will achieve nothing. It’s akin to deserting a mansion and letting a bunch of drug-addicted tramps move in, and claiming that by your absence somehow you’re making things better. The trolls need to be identified, named and shamed, their tweets put out there for everyone to see and those which are the most abusive or threatening handed to the police so that real action can be taken. That’s the only way to get the trolls back under the bridge they came from, and make sure they stay there.