Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

We can't stop nasty trolls but these idiots won't silence me

Net effects: Floral tributes to schoolgirl Hannah Smith, below, who took her own life this week due to abuse she received on Ask.fm

"When the police came around the other night, they were banging and banging on the door," a neighbour of Nimmo's was reported as saying.

"The police were walking around the garden and shouting up at the windows. Eventually, he came down and they took him away.

"They had his computer and I saw the officer with his mobile phone in a plastic bag."

There aren't that many smiles to be had in the recent tales of online abuse, but I'll admit I do have a wry one playing about my chops each time they arrest, or caution, one of these alleged keyboard tyrants.

These brief moments of fleeting schadenfreude are, in fact, all women really have in the face of those cheering, oddly specific messages sent by recreational internet sociopaths vowing to break into my home (I know where u live, b**ch you making me angree!), with ambitious plans to defile my corpse (seems a bit churlish, to be honest) and slide about in my entrails (the cruellest blow of all. I have a sisal carpet that's an absolute bugger to clean). Or that man last week who promised he'd made a bomb.

I'll wager that he would be flummoxed let loose making a baked-bean Breville, but he was breaking the law nevertheless and, to date, there have been no arrests for it.

We do live in peculiar times. If there seems to have been a lot of shouting and railing in the media about "trolls" this week – oh, please God, spare me that bloody awful "troll" word; we need a much better and more dismissive term for these tedious abusers – this is because none of us has any sensible, clear-minded ideas about how to cope with the dark societal shift.

For example, who are these men's wives, their girlfriends, their sisters, their grans and their mothers? Why is causing fear now supposed to be funny?

You with the mask and the knife, sending "time to die" shots to women politicians – does your poor old mum even know that you're using her best Sabatier meat cleaver?

Once upon a time, way back in the dim, distant past, there was a comforting rarity in recreational weirdos; these men who wanted to call a woman's BT landline, breathe heavily, then repeat the process 77 or so more times, drunk on their own impotent rage and hollow power, until the police – eventually – tracked them down.

Oh, for the sweeter, gentler times of the occasional flasher in the local park and the vague feeling that the police actually cared about finding him.

Today, August 2013, we live in a world where so many men have the relaxing after-work hobby of role-playing online as rapists and killers that we quite literally don't have the law-enforcers to deal with it.

None of these people ever expects a knock on the door from the police, or some time alone in a windowless cell, or even the wrath of his own mother. They'll tell you that they do it for the laughs.

They are righteous, hilarious and, in their own tiny minds, perfectly within their rights.

When the schoolgirl Hannah Smith took her own life this week due, or so it is said, to the abuse she received on Ask.fm, with total predictability the attacks then moved on to her sister. Well, of course. A grieving child. Doubly exciting for these people.

Internet providers wash their hands of blame.

Freedom of speech enthusiasts believe any smite to these people is akin to a slippery slope to fascism.

Nothing can change, as no one wants things to change and speaking about it publicly causes more anger towards the victims.

With the abuse of female politicians, writers and campaigners, many people believe the aim is to stop women moving forward in public life and to silence us.

I don't honour these men with any grasp whatsoever on gender politics; I don't honour them with enough intelligence to wash themselves properly.

But if they think that they'll shut me, or any of my female colleagues, up in our move towards equality, they're far, far stupider than their Panto-horror death-threats even suggest.

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