I wrote a little while back about why I blog anonymously, but the last couple of weeks has made me even more glad I do - and even more terrified about anyone discovering my identity. Today is the high court trial of a man who made a stupid joke on Twitter - Mark Chambers might have been foolish but he's not a terrorist - and yet the time, money and energy of a whole bunch of people is being taken up presumably to try to establish this.
Even more scary to my mind is this story, of a woman whose 5 year old autistic son was forcibly taken in the middle of the night because of her blog, in which she did nothing but express her wishes to do her best for her son. This is terrifying. The blog has been removed for legal reasons, but please pray to whatever you pray to to get that little boy home.
I think many people use the internet to vent, to be and explore their true selves - or the selves they would never dare to be in public. I certainly do and I do feel like it's a necessity for me. I feel like I'm a better mum for it because I've got a place I can turn to at any time and just 'get it out'. Anonymity allows you to speak your mind and mull over your thoughts - without fear of the real world repercussions that are clearly happening more and more often. The downside of that is that while it's true for the people who just want to vent their personal stuff, it's also true for the trolls, who don't take responsibility for their personal stuff and instead vent it on other people.
For example, I read an article recently (that I won't link to because I don't want the trolls trip-trapping over here) which was essentially a single mum saying that one of the advantages of not having her ex around was that she could insist on her kid not peeing on the seat or throwing dirty socks all over the floor without being met with 'but dad does it'. Now I don't think that's too controversial, but the comments were unbelievably vicious - she was accused of child abuse, told she should be locked up and a myriad of other things before I stopped reading. This, just for asking her kid not to piss on the seat and put his dirty clothes in a washing basket. There were clearly a lot of people who'd been brought up to believe that a mother's job was to clean and clear up after her kids, give them no sense of personal responsibility and only speak of the father in glowing terms no matter what - which I guess was why they were all sat at home with nothing better to do than hound this poor woman on the internet. There were a couple of supportive comments but that was it - and I couldn't help thinking they were incredibly brave because no doubt the trolls would find and trash them if they could. I left swiftly without commenting in case they found me and all my posts - I'm sure they would've nailed me to a tree.
I was on a thread recently and experienced a bit of trollage myself - I wasn't completely anonymous on the thread and had used my real first name so I was absolutely terrified that said troll would find me elsewhere. I felt gutted because it was a supportive thread for single mums going through difficult times and I really really wanted to reply to the troll, but I knew for my family's safety and livelihood it just wouldn't have been sensible (for a variety of reasons I am very traceable on the internet). What he had written showed that he hadn't bothered to read not only what I'd written but any of the other posts on the thread, so anything I said wasn't going to make any difference anyway. I just hope and pray that all the mums reading that post have the intelligence to see his comments for what they were rather than being disheartened by them. So far, the troll has not followed me anywhere else, although I'm watching out for him.
I was talking to DS1 about this and people saying unkind things on the internet generally, and he said 'Why would people do that?' and I didn't really have an answer for him, not one a 6-year-old could get his head around anyway. To a certain extent I'd like him to continue thinking it's unfathomable, because I don't want to offer him any explanation that might make it sound okay. It did give me pause for thought though, so here's my take on why people say what they say - good and bad - on t'internet:
The problem with the internet is that because you engage with it in your own personal space, you can sometimes forget that it's real. It can feel much more like thought than communication. That means that some people just write what they think without concern for the impact it will have, because thoughts don't have impacts like spoken words do. Yes, some people are just mean, and probably would say it to your face as well, but I think many more wouldn't, which is why there is so much trollage on the net.
I also think that engaging with the net in your personal space means that some people forget that anyone can read what they say. That leads to them saying things that they would never dream of saying to a stranger in real life - either because it's too mean, too personal, or too open to misinterpretation by someone who doesn't know you. It's hard to remember when you're blogging and tweeting, that as well as your lovely followers - who have a context for what you say - there are also a whole bunch of other people who can find that stuff, interpret it how they want to and use it to attack you - no matter how unreasonable that is. For example, I'm sure Mark Chambers wouldn't dream of going up to a police officer and saying what he said on Twitter - but effectively that's what he did, because when you say it on Twitter you are potentially saying it to every single person in the world with an internet connection.
So I'd be really interested to hear your take on this - How do you engage with the internet and do you remember you're talking to the world? What do you think of anonymity and the trolls that go along with it? Would love to have your thoughts - anonymous or otherwise!