I recently experienced what is called “trolling” on my social media. It left me feeling very upset and defensive.
Previously, when I read about this, I usually wondered why people found it so wounding. Perhaps they just needed to be a bit tougher, I asked myself.
In my case, I wrote a comment on someone else’s post. All I said was, “I disagree.” Just a brief sentence, to register my (feeble) opinion.
Afterwards there were other comments, on both sides of the discussion. But then, someone commented on my comment; not the person who made original post, but someone I didn’t know.
They proceeded to make a personal attack on me and my integrity. They also asked if I was unwilling, or afraid to make my opinions in full; afraid of other’s comments?
Well, now I am. I am afraid of them!
My initial response was to reply. But I decided to do this privately. I don’t like these visible, online, arguments, because they seem quickly to degenerate into nasty exchanges.
I sent my message, and sat down, but immediately regretted doing so. I had descended to their level.
So, I sent a second message, apologising for my tone, but making clear that I didn’t want any further contact.
I thought that was the end, and to date I have had no further messages from this person. But the (out of proportion) impact has affected me badly.
I thought about it all night – it happened yesterday. So, I went and deleted my comment from the thread, to curtail any more response.
But then, I went further. I examined my latest column for The Prisma, because I usually share these on social media. But this time, I didn’t.
I have become afraid someone will read it, and disapprove. I am obviously a real softie. This is after all not the worst case of online bullying.
But my reaction demonstrates the dangers in all attempts to close down debate. I am currently reading Timothy Snyder’s book, “On Tyranny. Twenty lessons from the twentieth century”.
It is a thin book, and examines how we need to act, if a genuine tyranny arises. The secret is to take action soon, before the regime gets too strong.
Stories from Nazi Germany abound about how Jews failed to escape while they could, because they thought it couldn’t be as dangerous as the pessimists believed.
But, you know the difference between the pessimist and the optimist? The pessimist believes things can’t get any worse, the optimist believes they can!
One of the first developments in any incipient tyranny, is that we begin to “obey in advance”, as Snyder puts it.
That is, we start to self-censor. This is how the press is muzzled, even in a democracy, when permissible discourse and the terms of debate are controlled.
This can happen from Left and Right, because either can over-proscribe the limits of acceptable speech. It’s what, in a small way, happened to me. And we must fight it.