Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Time to name and shame the internet trolls

Recent court pictures of Sean Duffy, the 25-year-old unmasked as the internet 'troll' who'd posted cruel and obscene taunts about dead teenagers on tribute sites, reinforced just about everything you'd imagine a troll to be.

Single, male, introverted-looking, a sad loner who spends hours upon hours on his laptop feeding that great cyber gulch with what he apparently believed to be his dazzling wit.

Duffy's postings must have caused the most terrible heartache to the parents of his young victims.

He doctored pictures of the dead girls with vile messages; most of the filth he posted is so despicable it doesn't bear repeating here.

The court in Reading, where he lived, was told that he trawled the internet looking for tribute sites to deface.

Duffy was sentenced to 18 weeks in prison - which might strike some as undue leniency on the part of the judge.

But there were mitigating factors which in some national newspaper reports have not received a whole lot of attention.

According to an interview with his father in a Reading paper, Duffy has been diagnosed with Asperger's (a form of autism) and may have other mental problems.

His father John - who comes originally from Northern Ireland (ironically he is the man behind the satirical Cheryl Kerl Twitter page) - told the Reading Post: "What Sean did was wrong and nothing changes that."

But he added: "The other side is, Sean is a mentally ill person and he is in the wrong place at the moment. Sean needs to be in some kind of intense psychiatric unit where they can get to the bottom of what has made him do this and make sure he gets cured of it."

And Sean Duffy we should remember is not unique in his internet trolling. Nor did he invent what's been described as a craze but what is more accurately defined as a crime.

Trolling is how a surprisingly large number of internet users get their kicks.

Should we really be shocked given that out there in the cyber sphere there are websites exhorting rape, murder, you name it?

More to the point, should we be shocked given some of the now bog-standard, common-place abuse that gets bandied about on the net?

The internet has been a fabulous gift to mankind. It has brought people together all over the globe, it has been a fount of knowledge, solace and advice.

It has given a voice to the weak and the suppressed. It has also undoubtedly allowed the maggot to roar.

Part of the problem is the anonymity of the beast.

Hiding behind a droll (they think) name, the bile merchants are emboldened to let rip.

It's the equivalent of the drunk shouting from somewhere in the bowels of the bar or the yob hurling abuse from the football stands.

You have no idea where it's coming from.

That's not to say, of course, that everyone who uses a pseudonym online is a hate-monger. As in most areas of life, the vast majority are sound. And there are many good reasons why an internet poster - or blogger - would wish to conceal his or her identity. And yet it always does strike me that much of the best, most rational debate on the net does seem to come from those whose poster name at least hints at their identity.

It's as if using an obscure alias encourages some posters to mindless vitriol. (Or in the 140 character sense - Twitriol.)

Should sites encourage a bit more openness (honesty?) from those who contribute opinion?

A point for discussion.

Although I am sure there are plenty who will call me a thicko moron guilty of shabby journalism just for raising it.

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