Today our new columnist, Kirsty Logan, takes over from the brilliant John Nugent. Her first column deals with that scourge of the internet – anonymous online commenters, aka trolls...
Hello and good morning/afternoon/evening.
I hope you are sitting comfortably and clutching a cup of something delicious, rather than (like me) glaring at the rain and freezing your wee tootsies off.
To introduce myself: I’m Kirsty, I’m 27, I live with my girlfriend in Glasgow, and I write things for a living. Fiction, mostly, but as anyone who trucks in made-up stories will tell you, it doesn’t pay the rent. The same goes for journalism, but with a cunning mixture of the two (and a few other things, mostly legal), the bills somehow get paid. But there’s a very big difference between fictional stories and non-fictional articles, and it’s not their amount of truthiness. It’s the comments. Those wonderful, terrible, anonymous comments.
In the January issue of The Believer, Meghan Daum wondered whether the writers of today “have ever really been able to express anything—in print, on a blog, on Facebook, wherever—without on some level bracing themselves for mockery or scorn or troll-driven pestilence.” I don’t have to wonder, because she’s talking about me. Well, not just me – you too.
Last year I had an article in a high-profile US newspaper. I was thrilled, obviously, and sent the link to my mum. Everything was going swimmingly until she scrolled down to the comments – which called me stupid, snobby, close-minded and a hack. Worst of all, they called me “Kristy”.
My mum wanted to track down each of the commenters and respond to them personally, with the general theme of HOW DARE YOU, MY CHILD IS A GENIUS. You’ve never seen Mama Logan on the warpath, but trust me when I say that if you upset her children, she will fry up your heart with some onions and Worcestershire sauce. And then afterwards she’ll knit a nice scarf.
I laughed it off, telling her that nasty comments were just how it goes. We’re creative people. We eat rejection for breakfast. We have the hides of rhinos and the egos of Kanye West. We make things, they go out into the world, and then anonymous strangers tell us that we’re stupid. Just how it goes. But does it have to be that way?
It would be great if everyone who commented had thought carefully about what they’d read and wanted to share their opinion – whether agreement or disagreement. But often it’s “tl;dr” (too long; didn’t read) followed by screeds of scorn with little or nothing to do with the article.
In the Olden Days (also known as the years BB, Before Blogs), people who hated your work might call you an idiot – but you’d never know it. If they really cared they’d write a letter to the editor – but you’d only see it if they were articulate enough for the editor to publish. Now there are no gatekeepers. By the time an article has been up for a day, it’s so choked with arguments that rational, thoughtful people don’t want to wade into the shitstorm. Life is just too short.
But aside from bracing ourselves, what can we do about it? The internet is a free and open forum. We shouldn’t change it, no matter how many trolls or non-thinkers clutter it up. The ability to comment anonymously is a beautiful thing, and everyone’s opinion is valid, whether they’ve really thought it through or not. Right?
What do you think of anonymous commenting? Leave a comment below – be nice!