I remember the good old days, when men were men, nerds were nerds, “baud” was an issue of genuine concern and Counter Strike was the only game in town…
I was once proud (hey, I was young) to be involved with an online gaming community called Wireplay, a name with a long history that has sadly since been sold from company to company so many times it’s barely recognisable. The core of the community (certainly for me, having been okay but rarely good or engaged enough with games to get sucked into competitive clan gaming) was the forum (message board/bulletin board or whatever terminology works for you).
It was a place where many teenage gamers (socially inept and socially confident alike), along with more than a few adults who had never grown up, talked about really anything.
(We weren’t that nerdy, we even met up in real life from time-to-time, although this is the only photo I dare share from any of those events.)
It’s fair to say, we saw more than a few “trolls”. Accounts that would appear from nowhere, spout something hateful and generally poke the community anthill until they were dealt with. We also had our fair share of troublesome members of the community who needed putting back in their box on occasion. The Wrestling sub-community (oddly, or perhaps appropriately) saw a lot of this – bizarrely never about wrestling though.
Why this random trip down memory lane? It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that online abuse has made the headlines quite a bit recently. From Tom Daley to Helen Skelton, celebrities seem to have been having a tough time of it lately. Arrests have been made and warnings issued.
Of course the problem here isn’t that trolling online has suddenly become a massive problem – Twitter has been around since 2006 and I can’t believe it took long after Jack made his very first tweet that the naughty words began to fly. To my mind we’ve just seen something of a confluence of events – Twitter’s level of maturity, the Olympics and the now infamous “Rileyy_69” apparently not taking his medication – which has caught the media’s imagination.
After all, winding people up has been around since the first “Yo momma!” joke in 3500 years ago…
It all reminded me how, as an active member and later as community manager, we handled these people back in the good old days. Sometimes we gave as good as we got. Sometimes I would engage with the troll in the background, particularly if it was an existing member who seemed to have gone off the rails a bit. Sometimes temporary or permanent bans had to be doled out. I can’t remember one time that anyone contemplated calling the police. The notion seemed too ridiculous.
So it was a relief to hear that the police don’t feel there’s any need to introduce new laws (although I can’t help thinking that parts of the troublesome Communications Act 2003 need looking at, particularly in the wake of the successful Twitter Joke Trial appeal).
A lot of the behaviour the press has reported on has been the online equivalent of running up to someone you don’t like the look of in the playground and calling them names, or the kind of untargeted and unprovoked drunken threats you can often hear outside a kebab shop early on a Sunday morning. Loud and malicious, but not on a personal level really, more lashing out for the hell of it, be it from frustration or sadness (see this quote from the excellent Grosse Pointe Blank, or Derren Brown’s tale of dealing with a drunken confrontation). Inexcusable, yes, but grounds for police action? If I’d called the police every time we saw Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies in action online in my day then there’d be significantly more people aged 25-35 with criminal records…
Really @Rileyy_69’s only mistake (*if* you allow that his behavior is as a result of ADHD) was presumably targeting someone who he thought wouldn’t engage in the way he did (rather than getting into an argument, which he seems to relish), someone with an almost rabid fan-base, a fan-base with a low tolerance for bullying and a disproportionate idea of how to respond.