Trolls and Other Cowards

This has come about because of the really horrible cases of trolls upsetting people last week. Thanks for the inspiration, you sad perverts.

For those who didn’t hear about it: over here in the UK some women were attacked on Twitter.

There are some pathetic individuals who like to worry or scare people for no reason. Trolls exemplify this kind of moron. They put messages up on Twitter and elsewhere. They infest the internet with cruel, thoughtless comments, going to sites put up in memory of recently deceased people and throwing on their own vicious posts, or going to Twitter accounts and trying to terrify people with threats of rape or bomb attacks. This last week has seen a spate of them, with women such as a campaigner, a commentator and a professor being their targets.

Of course, bullies and other cowards are easily cowed when confronted, which is why so many of them take up anonymous personas on the internet so that they can feel secure from retaliation or confrontation. No doubt many of these intellectually-challenged individuals will turn out to be teenagers – although there will be a fair number of unpleasant adults, no doubt. However, it really is time that their crimes were investigated more seriously. Threatening to commit rape or a bomb attack is a crime in the UK. Someone going to the internet to spread comments like them really does deserve to be caught and have their crime highlighted. The old “name and shame” approach is ideal for this kind of crime. Most bullies don’t like to think that their crimes will be exposed to general public contempt with their own mugshot attached.

Westernmost point of the Isle of Wight - the Needles

Westernmost point of the Isle of Wight – the Needles

The problem, as always, is that of certainty. How can you be absolutely convinced that the man whose face you have posted on Twitter, say, with a list of his offences, is actually the correct person?

I am a firm exponent of the principle that it’s better to allow nine felons to go free rather than condemn one innocent. In the modern world, however, there are too many blurred lines between guilt and innocence.

Take the example of the fool who discovered that his plane flight was cancelled. He was grumpy, so he put up a silly message on twitter. His message was clearly a joke. It ran to the effect that if they (Robin Hood airport) didn’t get their act together, the poster would go and blow it up. He put it on his main twitter feed without hiding his name or identity. So it was a silly message, as I say – a prank – but he was pursued through the courts, lost his job (and then a second) and was ruined. For more information about it, look up #twitterjoketrial on Twitter or the web. Luckily, he has been freed from prison and the case against him exposed as a pointless waste of time and effort (and meanwhile, to show the common sense priorities of the staff at the airport, read this:

That fellow was guilty of a dim-witted lapse of judgement, when he stuck up his daft message. However, it was so clearly a joke that pursuing the poor devil through the courts was an abuse in its own right. Officials should not try to impose the absolute letter of the law. There has to be leeway for logic. Britain has always been proud of the use of sufficient law as much as sufficient force to enforce the law.

But trolls still proliferate. One threatened Professor Mary Beard – a plain-speaking, delightful woman, whose incisive mind often, for me, makes sense of the strange world we live in – with a bomb attack. As she said, she wasn’t particularly scared by the threat, but she did feel harassed. And with good reason – who wouldn’t?

It made me think: what sort of moron would think writing such threats and sending them would be amusing or in any way justified?

I was reading last week (while away on holiday for a week in the Isle of Wight – lovely!) about sketching and painting, which I am trying to learn, and discovered a little jewel of advice which was, that to learn how to draw well, one should draw for at least ten minutes every day. Trying to draw for two hours once a fortnight doesn’t get the brain and fingers working, but a little time every single day will help enormously.

The Tennyson Monument at the top of his favourite down near his home on the Isle of Wight

The Tennyson Monument at the top of his favourite down on the Isle of Wight.

In the same way, a writer needs to spend a little time every day thinking about characters and plots, and ideally writing a little about them.

Well, for me, my basic research falls into some distinct categories. One involves thinking about faces, bodies, habits, nervous tics and other plain, visible, physical attributes. For this I am very lucky: I have a book which is perfect for me. Many years ago, when I worked for Wang Laboratories, I attended a wonderful sales convention. Afterwards, all the salespeople there were given a book with photos of all the hundreds of attendees. Whenever I am in doubt about a character, I go to that book for facial shapes, eye colours, track lines beside mouths – everything. And I can embellish all my characters based on clients and colleagues I used to work with. That is why, I think, I tend to have realistic people in my books – the victims, witnesses and others are based on real people.

However, the majority of my work lies in thinking about the motivations of the people. I have to invent felons of all types, and to do that I need to gain an insight into the way that their minds may work. For that, there is no better exercise than thinking about crimes committed.

If you are going to write effectively and realistically, you have to pull apart the motives of all those who inhabit your stories. If you are a crime writer, you have to have five or six people who have realistic means, motives and opportunities to commit the crime. And you cannot have each making use of the same motive, naturally. That would feel lazy to a reader. It would to me as a writer!

So, for me, it is useful to read newspapers, listen to the radio, or watch TV, and see if I can put myself into the shoes of the people depicted there. Usually I can, with a little effort. It’s possible to think myself into the mindset of a drunk who kills from jealousy, or a bully who kills from some sense of saving face, or the terrified who kill in self-defence – but the one sort of person I really cannot understand is the nasty, mean-minded individual who is so inept at social interaction, so incapable at human relationships, that the only means of self-expression of which they are capable is to bully, scare, and intimidate people he will never meet, from a distance, without even having the courage to show their own face.

That kind of ultimate cowardice is to me incomprehensible.

View over Freshwater Cove, Isle of Wight

View over Freshwater Cove, Isle of Wight

9 Responses to “Trolls and Other Cowards”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Snap Michael. I wrote a post about this very subject yesterday. In my case it was about the endless foul mouthed troll attacks Indie writers currently suffer from on sites like Goodreads and Amazon.

    By the way – I believe you meant deceased and not diseased. I could be wrong of course. ;)


  2. Paul Neimoyer says:

    Actually I feel sorry for them. (trolls) They are pathetic people who need attention and need to feel they are worthwhile. They accomplish this by tearing down things they don’t have the ability to understand.


    • I would feel more sorry for them, were their actions not so crass and determined to hurt other people. The worst, by far, are those who seek out memorial pages to suicide victims, and leave appalling comments just to upset.


  3. Mark Henwick says:

    Good post. Timely comment.
    And I loved the pictures of the IoW!


  4. robertsouthworth says:

    Its the fact that they dont have to show their face which empowers them. Socially enept they feel anger and loathing for themselves, the only remedy is focus that anger on a complete innocent. Your right to call them cowards, cowards because they cant face their own failings without placing blame elsewhere.


    • I just cannot imagine what drives people to such destructive cruelty. I guess one day I may get an inkling, but I doubt I could use them in a book – they’re just too extreme. Thanks for the comment!


  5. I was trolled once in a comment on the Daily Mail website, where the smelliest pond life lurks, after a story about me speaking the truth on BBC Radio5. The guy was such an idiot he posted his email address, so I had a word with a copper I know, and he had his door knocked; only way to deal with these people. (The fact that the Mail allowed this to happen is a side issue.)


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