Do people feel the way they sound when they go on Facebook to say the thug who ran over a policeman should have reversed over him to finish the job?
It was not a universally held view by any means but what possesses apparently normal people to say such things in open view of everyone?
True, everyone is ‘entitled’ to an opinion but some people really put on an effort to prove that rights are wasted on them. What possible justification can anyone have to flippantly but very publically wish for the horrific death of a police constable who was controlling traffic when an underage beżqa drove over him?
Do these people exist in a world where such a remark would find anyone approving of it or laughing at it or slapping their thighs at the wit of it or dropping their jaws in amazement at its wisdom?
I am reflecting on this because these extreme hurtful and hateful views are particularly intriguing because they do not seem to have any explanation or context to them. They are not explained by, for example, acts of police violence that could provoke this sort of unthinking reaction in some. You could, like me, have a terrifyingly low opinion of the police chief and his inner circle of blundering loyalists. But there is no credible connection between that and such vicious remarks about a motorbike beat cop.
It seems like someone who goes on Facebook to say something outrageous like this is not putting forward a point of view. There is nothing behind it except the provocation of a reaction. ‘I say this because I can’. In a way it is like someone pulling their pants down and mooning someone from inside their car as they drive by a gaggle of people likely to make a fuss at the outrage.
Is there a connection between this irrational disregard for proper public behaviour and at least some of the trolls and at least some of the outrage that has been fighting its turf on Facebook along partisan lines these last several months?
As I read what I have just written I worry that I am providing evil trolls with some mitigation for the ugliness of their acts. That moral vacuity, an inability to understand that words hurt, incompetence in distinguishing between cogent even if forceful criticism from wanton slander, could excuse the people who say the very ugly things they say on Facebook.
The detailed research The Shift News conducted in the methods of mobilisation under the watchful eyes of very senior Labour Party politicians confirms what we have believed for a long time: that trolls are organised, mobilised and sing from a coordinated message.
But they are not automata. The coordination does not explain why so many people follow these instructions and go as far as they do when they follow these instructions. Saying they are paid is unproven and probably superficial. Assuming trolling is professional again reduces responsibility for the words of the troll. It’s not personal then. It’s business.
I suspect in the great bulk it isn’t paid. Not in the sense one would expect anyway. When we assume trolls are paid to say what they say we make the same mistake they make when they ask how much a whistle-blower, say, is paid, or a civil society activist is paid to say what they believe. Whistle-blowers and civil society activists do not need money as a motivation to say what they believe. Trolls, likely, neither.
Of course it helps if they’re getting a salary for some public sector job they’re supposed to be doing while they’re defecating on Facebook all day. In that sense, yes, they are paid.
What is really disturbing is that these trolls, like the geniuses who went on Facebook to say the gravely injured policeman hurt on the line of duty should have had a worse fate, do not ground the viciousness of what they say in some broader political argument they wish to make.
Going on Facebook to write why one disagrees with criticism of Joseph Muscat and to say why it is not justified is not trolling. That’s expressing a view.
But going on Facebook to write the sort of things that plague the comments boards of people who like me have a presence on Facebook proposing a certain point of view is not expressing a view. It is outrage for its own sake. It is not an effort to argue but to shock and disgust, to hurt and to suffocate.
Even as they say the things they say in what they believe to be the service of the cause of their political party, do people live in a real world where the language of mediaeval curses is welcomed and appreciated by anyone?
I really do not think that outside of Facebook much of what is written there is ever said aloud by the same people in the direction of anyone. If they did, we’d have many more dead traffic policemen; but also many dead politicians, journalists, activists who are habitual targets of this discourse.
Every day the limits of basic decency are pushed further back. Every day the threats and the hurtful language are harsher. Every day this troll is looking to out-swear yesterday’s other troll. Every day the rape fantasies, the public whipping fantasies, the execution fantasies become more imaginative and, if you’re the subject matter of those fantasies, they become more horrific.
Of course we know that the most prominent target of them all of decades of this sort of language did wind up dead and people did celebrate her death. When you remember that, you know they mean it.