Be nice to each other

If you didn’t see The Anti-Social Network, Richard Bacon’s timely BBC3 investigation into internet “trolls”, cyber-bullying and the desecration of RIP tribute sites, you’ve a couple more days before it disappears from the iPlayer. I hope the BBC repeat it; it really is required viewing if you regularly spend time on the internet, especially if you use Twitter or Facebook. The fact is, there’s some nasty stuff going on at the more anonymous end of the worldwide web. We all know about trolls. In the past, on this blog, and on Twitter, and more recently when I’ve put my head above the parapet on the notoriously brutish Guardian website, I’ve been lightly trolled. My first response is always to reason with them, but this pretty much always backfires, because a) they are aiming to elicit an emotional response and in doing so you “feed” them and encourage them, and b) they don’t respond well to reason, or calm, or any of the other tools I often use on detractors or the just plain rude.

A couple of weeks ago, and this is atypical of the majority of the dialogue that unfolds there, some bright spark posted this comment beneath my Telly Addict column on the Guardian site:

“Andrew Collins is ill-qualified to judge the creative efforts of others; the shows he has been involved in writing – the truly lamentable Grass, and Not Going Out – have been, without exception, excrement.”

Excrement. Now, clearly, this person (and let’s go mad and assume it’s a “he”) is entitled to his opinion, and to state it in a public forum. After all, the digital Guardian encourages it – nay, demands it! I pointlessly rose to it, but with a fairly vanilla response about the subjectivity of opinion, mine and his. He responded:

“Well done, you have recognised my comment as an opinion and therefore subjective, give yourself a pat on the back. That is exactly the kind of pedantry I would expect. You don’t respond well to criticism at all do you? If you are going to work in a creative field you are going to have learn to accept it.”

Thanks for the advice. Now, to be fair, this is not typical behaviour for a troll, so let’s go mad and say that this man isn’t one. However, when somebody puts their hand up and tells you that your work is “excrement” they are using the tactics of a troll. It all comes down to manners in the end.

Which is why I am about to republish my Manners Manifesto from January 2008, except updated to include manners on the internet, which is a growth area for rudeness.

The non-troll above is right in the sense that, yes, I do work in a “creative field”, and I can be thin-skinned sometimes, but I don’t accept that in this field, I must “accept” having my work called “excrement” by a man hiding behind a pseudonym, totally untraceable, when my “creative” work is done in public, in forums where I am totally identifiable and traceable.

I have been moderating comments on this blog for years now, and the abuse has pretty much dried up, which rather proves that without a platform, trolls soon lose interest.

My guess – and I may be wrong – is that if the man above met me in the street, or in a social situation, he would not tell me that he thought Grass and Not Going Out were “excrement.” He would either not mention it, or he would say that he didn’t really like them, if pushed for a preference. He wouldn’t, because if he did, it would be rude. Here is the news: it is just as rude on a website.

Anyway, I bet he hasn’t seen every episode of Not Going Out. Episode Two of Series 3, which I co-wrote, was BRILLIANT.

The Manners Manifesto 2012 will follow over the next couple of days – I want to post it separately so that it can be accessed in its pure form. In the meantime, be nice to each other, as Derek Batey used to say on Mr & Mrs.

5 thoughts on “Be nice to each other

  1. Personally, I like it when people respond to negative comments about their work with a positive response. Then again, it’d be nice to get more responses to both positive and negative criticisms. I also agree that I’m more willing to accept someone’s critiques when they’re more open about themselves, rather than anonymously saying something I’ve done is rubbish; it seems only fair.

  2. Of course he wouldn’t call your shows excrement if he met you in public. He’s hardly going to use language like that in front of his mum, is he? Does a list of two shows require the emphasis “without exception”? Did anything you said amount to pedantry? I suspect not.

    Be nice to each other and get your pets neutered, as Bob Barker used to say.

  3. I think the key to understanding this is the word ‘troll’. In British English it has one meaning, I think, the Scandinvian-style monster that lives under bridges, oppressing billy goats. It’s ugly, stupid and meaningless.
    In American English, ‘trolling’ is what you do when lake fishing from a boat (and I live in Minnesota, so I should know); a slow deliberate progress across a body of water, with your line dragging behind you. A provocation in order to entice fish to bite, using the minimum of effort.
    The internet ‘troll’ is literally ‘trolling’; he wants to you to reply, he wants to provoke, he’s hoping that this IS the right room for an argument. So don’t reply, unless that’s what you want. It’s not that trolls aren’t rational, it’s that the trolling itself is designed ONLY for argument NEVER for resolution….

    • A fascinating insight – I had no idea, but it makes sense. (I used a picture of the Troll from the Ladybird book of Three Billy Goats Gruff, which scared the life out of me when I was a kid.)

      • Like e-mail ‘spam’ is an American English usage based on PBS purchasing Monty Python from the BBC in the early ’70’s, I’m pretty sure that internet ‘trolling’ was coined using this fishing metaphor, not the monster metaphor. I bet the OED is working on this right now…

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