Most regular readers of this blog will know that I co-run a campaign on Twitter/Facebook, called Fifty Shades is Abuse. I'm not going to explain why I'm passionate about it, or what the campaign stands for right now (if you want to know more, you can read our FAQs here), but it's an important piece of information to highlight before I launch into this blog.
You see, Fifty Shades is very popular. More than 100million books have been sold and anticipation over the film has been building for months. For many people, the books tell a "love story" and they won't hear any different opinion from that. Every now and then, I'll check Twitter and find that @50shadesabuse's mentions have gone crazy. Sometimes it's fans, angrily asking how dare we suggest that Christian is anything but the perfect man. Sometimes it's bleeding-heart liberals, insisting that we're conflating BDSM with abuse and that we're prudish and pro-censorship (literally none of which is true). And sometimes it's just trolls.
Last night, after a genuinely lovely evening, watching Morecambe & Wise with my mum, whilst eating a massive bowl of popcorn and swigging Baileys, I decided to check the campaign's Twitter account before bed. And lo, it was one of those occasions where our mentions had exploded with tweets from all sorts of people who didn't follow the campaign. Some seemed interested hearing in what we had to say, or in engaging in debate with us. The rest... Well, let's just say I learnt a lot about Internet trolls last night. And because I like to share, I thought I'd post my findings here...
1. Trolls don't want facts.
At first, the trolliest (I think I just made that word up...) comments were similar to ones we've had on and off for years:
"Who the fuck gave you the right to censor what people read?! Shut the fuck up!"
"What two adults want to do in the bedroom is up to them, you fucking prude - you disgust me!!! Jesus."
Often, I won't respond to these comments at all. But given that the film is almost upon us and our campaign is getting a lot more attention, I decided to send each person (and there were more than three) the FAQ blog I linked to, earlier. Along with the link, I posted an innocuous message, explaining that we aren't pro-censorship, we disagree with book-burning/banning and that we're not in any way opposed to consensual BDSM. Not one of the trolls read said FAQ.
I know they didn't read it, because a) they continued to inform us that we're anti BDSM and pro-censorship (the FAQ explains that we have many followers from the BDSM community who support us fully and that we don't wish to censor anything, merely raise awareness). And b) it became a joke to them that they hadn't read it. At one point, a new troll joined in, screeching:
"Won't somebody please think of the FAQ?! Someone read it, quick, just to shut them up."
The original troll was quick to dismiss the idea of actually reading about the campaign:
"Fuck that. I'm not reading their pro-censorship bullshit."
Trolls don't want facts. Why? Because ignorance is their weapon. Trolls will arm themselves with whatever opinion suits them at that particular moment. Whatever they've decided their agenda is, they'll stick to it, regardless of what the truth of the matter is. Facts make them look stupid, so they'll avoid them at all costs.
2. Trolls are cowards.
Trolls move in groups. At one point, I was getting four of them all @-ing each other into their interactions with me, nudging one another like school kids on a bus.
"LOL, she's probably clutching her pearls at the thought of nudity! Don't swear, whatever you do!"
"Are we baiting the feminists?! I'll research some good insults..."
They merrily tweeted one another photos of famous "prudes," tagging our account in their chatter and giggling as though they were somehow achieving something other than proving their total and wilful ignorance. Why? Because trolls need support from other trolls. They can't go it alone, because as I'd already realised by this point, they don't have any real argument and they have no desire to hear yours. If you provide them with facts, they can only respond by flinging verbal shit at their screens, like howling primates, only half-way towards evolution. By banding together, they kid themselves that they've got the upper hand. Oh and funny old thing, whilst they're happy to pile on in a "four of us against one of you" scenario, the second someone backs you up in a tweet, they accuse you of ganging up on them. Because... Reasons.
3. Trolls will invariably let their slimy little masks slip...
When one of our followers valiantly took on a group of trolls last night, they claimed to want her to prove that Fifty Shades romanticises abuse and why it's important to speak out against that. However, with every piece of evidence she provided, the trolls turned the conversation round to one thing: Her sex life. Did she like it rough? Had she ever tried BDSM? Despite our follower explaining several times that she wasn't talking about BDSM and that her sex life had nothing to do with it, not one of the creeps would let it drop. Because as point 1 says, they didn't want facts. They wanted to make it personal and they wanted to intimidate the woman who was daring to question them. Their seedy demands that said follower answer their deeply personal questions about her sex life proved that they were... Well, trolls. And that trolls aren't particularly nice. But then, we knew that fact already.
4. Trolls will turn everything round on YOU.
Seriously, this is the most common thing I noticed last night and it's also one of the most infuriating ways a person can treat you. It's designed to try to trip you up and make you question yourself, the goal being humiliation. It's manipulative and, dare I say it, quite an abusive tactic. It also ensures that you can never win the argument, because again, the troll doesn't want facts.
For example, last night I informed one troll that I felt it was dangerous for glossy magazines to promote Christian Grey as a perfect man. His response:
"You just said everyone thinks he's perfect anyway! What is it - magazines doing it or YOU?!"
I mean... I wouldn't be promoting him as perfect, would I? Look at the campaign name, doofus. I highlighted that fact. He replied:
"So you're anti magazines now as well. Are women not allowed to read anything? Do you think they're all so thick they can't be trusted?!"
When I explained that I wasn't anti magazines or against women reading them, he replied:
"So you're supporting the magazines who promote Christian Grey as an ideal, then. Two faced or what? Pick a side."
It wouldn't have mattered if I had gone out in the middle of the night, printed my own magazine called "Anti-Censorship, Pro-Erotica, Christian Grey is An Abusive Arsehole Weekly" and filled it with articles on what a great guy the troll was for making me see the error of my prudish ways. He would have found a way to turn whatever I said or did against me.
A little later, I had the ridiculous:
"Why are you fucking tweeting me? I don't have to read your bullshit!!"
This, from a person who first initiated contact with me, in order to give me his unsolicited (and factually incorrect) opinion of my views. Apparently, my using facts in response to his damning verdict on my personality was totally unfair and uncalled for. Poor thing!
Twisting things around to make you the bad guy is something trolls particularly love to do. Why? Because they've lost the argument already and have nowhere else to go. One person doing that is pretty tiring. Having four or five of them at it is bloody exhausting. If I said I was raising awareness, I was told I was making the campaign all about myself. If I said I wanted to educate on what constitutes abuse, I was apparently suggesting that all women are thick. I won't lie, I had such a stress headache by the time I blocked all four of these arseholes (and more besides), I struggled to get to sleep.
The trouble with trolls is they don't think of the person behind the screen at the other end. If they did, we wouldn't have horrific death/rape threats being sent to people who've done nothing besides question a view or opinion. Trolls don't see that their words are going to be read by an actual, living person whose thoughts, whilst often wildly different from their own, are no less valid. To them, it's just words, chucked at a screen with the hope of hitting the idiot who can't see that their opinion is the only right one. And of course in some cases, trolls don't even have opinions on the matter being discussed; they see a debate and jump in, purely to attack and belittle someone because they think it's fun. "Troll" is too good a word for people like that. "Horrific Shit Faced Dick Brain" might be better, but it's a work in progress and I haven't settled on a title, yet...
Of course, with the film just around the corner and the campaign growing all the time, I'm bound to have encounters like those I had last night again. And again. Not only on the campaign account, but on my own, too. No doubt I'll eventually have far more than just four facts I've gleaned about trolls. I mean, we haven't even touched on the passive aggressive "if you'd moved on from your abuse, you'd see how unimportant your campaign is" style of "debate," nor have I mentioned the Fifty Shades fans who shared our account name with their friends across Twitter, with the words "REPORT THESE FUCKTARDS! HOW DARE THEY??!! REPORT THEM TO TWITTER!" Without explaining, you know, what we should be reported for.
Anyway... The trolls are blocked, as are the passive-aggressive "you just can't see how wrong you are, can you?" brigade, who believe in free speech, as long as everyone speaking shares their views (and whose hearts bleed for me, because I'm so unable to move on from my past, apparently).
But you know what? I'd like to think I'll never learn any further facts about trolls. I'd like to think that at some point, people will universally realise that we can have wildly differing views and still manage to be polite to one another. That we can vehemently disagree with someone, without feeling the need to make judgements on them personally, or send them vile abuse. Sadly, I know that's not very likely, though.
Every website is full of bridges...