Twenty years ago I wrote a short story called MORE TOMORROW, about a man who discovers something very not-good happening on the Internet, and is horrified by - amongst other things - other web-users' reactions to it. I've had many conversations about this story down the years with my father, an academic who has taken an interest in way in which people appear unable to acknowledge the reality of distant others. (If you're interested, the story's available in e-format on Kindle. I tried to make it free but Amazon won't let you do that. Bear in mind it comes from the neolithic era when the web itself was somewhat novel, everything was in black and white, and men still wore hats).
My father mentioned the story again to me on the phone this morning. He's in the UK, and following the current furore about trolling. I'm not going to add many more words to the millions already pouring forth on the subject, but...
Let's face it. Ninety nine percent of the assholes posting vile messages are cowards who'll shrink back under a rock when confronted (there's an example of this in a pretty balanced look at the phenomenon here). Most of these people are not credible threats. They're children, showing off, and spluttering bile. Too much attention produces more bile.
Let's also remember that not all troll-targets are women, and not all trolls are men. It's a mistake to present this as an issue of sex, or 'misogyny' (a term which is bandied about with perhaps excessive enthusiasm in some quarters). The truth is simpler but also scarier. Trolling is a manifestation of the broader fact that a large portion of humankind appears unable to comprehend or respect the reality of anyone outside their own heads and concerns. This failure is the wellspring of crime, rape, terrorism, and most of the world's other evils, and it's a tendency which is enabled and maginfied by the very nature of the Internet. It's never going to go away, and so the question is how we accommodate it.
I certainly don't this reserve is the answer, which is why I didn't join the #twittersilence. I don't believe that women - or anyone else - who've been subject to abuse should choose to lose their voice in the face of it (women, and entire races, have suffered in silence too long already). Instead we must educate where possible; vigorously repudiate when that doesn't work; and ultimately may simply have to choose to ignore the bad behaviour of others - meanwhile doing our best to cancel it out by acts of contradictory goodness.
Trolling is this month's flashpoint in an age-old conflict. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the true battle amongst humankind is not between men and women, or race against race, or creed against creed... it's about the non-assholes of the world trying to hold back the relentless zombie tide of assholes.
It's us against them, and we win not by getting tied up in knots about how best to be nice, or by accusing an entire sex of being flawed: we win by not being assholes. Every time we're good, and kind, and reasonable, somewhere a troll's star goes out.