Feeding the trolls – the perils of expressing online opinions

By Barry Lord

“I hate you and what you say means NOTHING.”

This remark was addressed to me when I logged into a website recently.

My offense?

I wasn’t fond of a new movie (I won’t name the movie because I like a quiet life, but it was a much hyped ‘Hollywood blockbuster’. Not much help, I know, but I told you I wanted a quiet life!) and I put my feelings in a blog.

In the comments section, there were attempts at discourse on the subject from people who’d seen the film and loved it and told me, in a constructive way, that I had no idea what I was talking about.

I’m all for that.

People don’t always post their views to elicit an angry response. Views are posted to establish a dialogue with other users and that dialogue can highlight the positive as well as the negative aspects of any film, book, TV show or news item under discussion.  

People who post contrary views should not all be deemed ‘Haters’ or ‘Trolls’ – a dismissive term casually used by people, I believe, who don’t want to engage in conversation that challenges their own opinion.

Most of us understand that people are made up of likes and dislikes and what we like and don’t like is born out of age and experience. One size doesn’t fit all and the internet holds all manner of opinion, some considered, some scathing, some slightly crazed.

I would say the remark that opened this piece falls into the ‘slightly crazed.’

So was I upset by this? Did an anonymous comment from someone I’ve never met, and hopefully never will, really knock a hole in my day?

The answer is no.

I’ve been posting my musings online for a long time – From MySpace to Bebo (which apparently makes me quite old!) to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and beyond, and I know that everything we do or say in the cyber sphere has an audience far larger than we realize at times.

In this case, I lost no sleep. But a thought did occur to me. What if I’d been younger and coming to terms with the web for the first time?  

Will young people be reluctant to post their opinions online for fear of being trolled
Will young people be reluctant to post their opinions online for fear of being trolled

Perhaps I had a passion for something – cinema, sports, theatre, and the arts – and I’d discovered a forum that allowed me to share this passion with other like-minded people.

I can guarantee I would find a community of users who love that new Kanye track, who idolise Ronda Rousey and who adored the last Marvel movie. But I can also guarantee that there will be others who don’t share that enthusiasm for these topics and will often find time in their day to write and tell you so, often in a derogatory and personal fashion.  

Would my confidence be dented? Would I think twice before touching a keyboard again?

The problem for me is not that people can write whatever they like – they can – but that sensitivity is so high these days that criticizing a movie can be taken as a personal insult.

It’s beyond my way of thinking and this is from a committed cinema lover who watches everything that’s released.

We all know there is a dark side to expressing yourself online and families throughout the country can testify to loved ones taking their own lives as a result of sustained periods of verbal abuse through social media and other forums.

You may reasonably argue that it’s wrong to equate cyberbullying with what could be taken in my case as a caustic rebuke to something I’d written.

However, context is everything, and those words I read could, through other eyes, be seen as provocation; that my opinion carries no weight, what I say is worthless and by extension I am worthless.  

How would that make you feel?

The obvious answer could be to ‘man-up’ – if you’re prepared to air your views on such a large public platform you have to accept there could be negative consequences.

But to those who would criticise others for criticizing a work of art, I’d say work away, but to me, it’s not a war worth waging.

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